Saturday, 15 June 2013
He's back! Alternative history with a twist ....
SS-GB was Len's contribution to the genre and that time period. It's still regarded as one of the premiers examples of the genre. The grim fascination with the period and the willingness to contemplate the awfulness of the 'what if' scenarios of a Nazi victory from the comfort of an armchair also explains why the Second World War, and the Nazis in particular, is one of the main themes of the alternative history genre.
Er is Wieder Da (He's back! in English) has a twist on this - it's not so much an alternative history of Nazi Germany as much as an alternative contemporary history of this decade, contemplating what would happen if the Nazis - more strictly, Hitler - returned to modern Germany.
It's a fascinating premise, one I was keen to explore. It's currently only published in the original German (but such has been its popularity in Germany that English-language rights have already been sold to MacLehose). Timur Vernes is the author; he's one of a new generation of German writers starting to explore their wartime history in a more open and arguably post-modern way, to the extent where the Nazizeit is now the potential source for a humorous novel.
The premise is simple, but clever. Hitler is discovered having somehow reawakened in Berlin of 2011 and, after finding his way in modern society, becomes a TV demagogue on a comedy show hosted by a Turkish immigrant having been mistaken for a never-out-of-character comic act, having had his potential as an act recognised by TV producers. Hitler - still convinced of his messianic role to save the German people - again uses all his rhetorical power and charm to begin to sway the Germans through his own website - the Fuhrer Headquarters - after a video of him leaks onto YouTube. His bigoted rants are interpreted as a satirical exposure of prejudice, leading him to decide to start his own political party.
It's as much a story about the contemporary Internet-soaked, celebrity-obsessed culture in the West, which allows someone as obviously evil as Hitler to, somehow, become an overnight celebrity and be courted because he's controversial, opinionated, charming and, clearly, dead! The book, which has already sold hundreds of thousands of copies has unsurprisingly sparked debate in a country that has grappled for decades with Hitler’s legacy.
But as fewer and fewer citizens from that time are alive in German society, it has created a real debate in the country. Some, unsurprisingly, are critical of what it represents: Stern wrote that the book was an “outgrowth of a Hitler commercialisation machine that breaks all taboos to make money. ” The author sees it differently, and contributing to a debate: “[Hitler] is always the monster, and we can be comforted by the fact that we’re different from him. He continues to spark real fascination in people, just as he did back then when people liked him enough to help him commit crimes.”
The Nazis will always make tremendous fodder for fiction writers and especially thriller writers, because of the nature of the crimes committed under the regime and because it was the war to end all wars. This book is the first to take this subject matter a wryly humorous twist. Worth investigating when it comes out in English.