Answering some of the Reading Group Questions at the end of the novel:
Do you find this version of Hitler a sympathetic character; if so, why?; how comfortable were you to be inside his head?--My answers: I never was sympathetic to the Hitler in this novel, because even though this is a fictional embodiment, I took him as Hitler, and kept in mind what Hitler did, and the truth is I spent the book hoping that, for all his ironic success after waking up in 2011 and becoming popular in an odd way again, the book would end with him answering for what he had done and being beaten up and murdered. Because the plot has him being mistaken--understandably so--for a VERY convincing Hitler impersonator all the way down the line, I thought maybe a late plot development would be someone, or some group, realizing the truth and deciding to deal with him accordingly. SPOILER: Of course, near the end of the book, Hitler is beaten up...by fascist bigots who feel he is mocking what Hitler and Hitler's Germany, stood for, thus garnering him even more support and sympathy in social media, etc...all of which of course fit in with the overall satirical nature of the novel. SPOILER ENDS So, no, I responded to the Hitler in this book as if he were Hitler, and as entertaining as the book was, I hoped that the book would end in his death. I want to move on, but regarding him being the first person narrator of this novel, and so regarding being inside his head--it would go from being intensely disturbing, to, I must say, quite amusing, but only amusing when the focus was on his reaction to the things in the real world that befuddled or frustrated him, like cellphone ringtones, people picking up after their dogs, etc. When Hitler's thoughts, as depicted in this novel, were most what I identify with the real Hitler--like his thoughts about Jewish people or invading countries--the book is not funny, and not trying to be funny
How easy was it to suspend disbelief; how easy would it be for Hitler to be accepted in society?--Me: I had no problem suspending disbelief. The author seems to have done an excellent job tackling this challenge, and as far as assessing what would happen if the real Hitler were suddenly back in the real world, I guess I'm sold that this version of events is a credible theory of how it would all go: Hitler being taken as a fake Hitler, but at the same time being so good at it that he gets on TV, on the internet, and ultimately is on the verge of a political future (uh, in the future). The last part is scary, even with some people "supporting" this Hitler (real, but mistakenly taken for fake) merely because he can so wonderfully be used to show how a Hitler must never happen again! The question becomes: at what point are you lampooning the message, and at what point is the line crossed and you are supporting the message and helping gain supporters who are reading the message wrongly! Infamous becomes famous gains followers accidently, hmmm.
Can the book be seen as a warning of extremist politicians today; any current figures come to mind?--Me: I'm not sure this is the absolute focus of the book--that is, commenting on the specifics of politics today. I'm personally reminded of one person involved in the USA Presidential race, and that person's approach to their advancement towards the position, and the sort of followers that person seems to be garnering...because the things that absolutely would make me not want to vote for that person are the very things that are helping that person get more popular. But I'll leave it at that, because the only place where I see the novel coming in to play is a very obvious warning that we must be very careful about making the mistakes of the past, whether Evil is barging through the door, or Evil is slipping under it, dressed as something else.
Does the novel succeed as a denouncement of our society's obession with the medium over the message...which I will combine with the next question: After reading this book, do you think a highly developed sense of irony insulates us from evil in the Information Age or does it make us more vulnerable to it?--Me: Hmmmmm, wow. The problem is, a highly developed sense of irony, an ability to detect satire--especially subtle satire, the ability to see the message underneath the message and to realize that these are all warnings not to just laugh and take things at face value...abilities like these are really great. But not many people have these abilities. I had a Professor when I was in university, and this was around the time Married With Children was on TV and extremely popular, and this Professor was very worried that the Bundys on Married With Children were popular because the average TV viewer thought they were cool and funny and that their fans identified with them. I said "I understand that some people will not realize that the Bundys are to be ridiculed and mocked, and that if this is what a typical family is like the show is actually a bit scary...but don't you think MOST people watching Married With Children laugh AT the Bundys; they're not popular because people identify with them, or look to them as role models?". The Professor said, basically: "No. I think it's scary because I think people watch Al Bundy and think he is what they are, and that it's okay because it's cool and popular, and that's what their friends are like when they go to the pub. The warning is that the show is not functioning AS a warning...and the writers and producers of the show know it. They are writing Married With Children to entertain and make horrible people popular and acceptable; they are not writing a warning."
My own similar experience in thought happened when I watched an episode of The Simpsons. The episode mocks cellphone users, and people overly-reliant on technology that they don't even understand, and in fact is so compelling and addictive that over-use of it makes one an unobservant idiot and a slave to it--ie. Homer Simpson walking into lamp-posts, not noticing horrible things happening around him, as he fiddles around with his new "toy", his new cellphone. And I thought: I just had a WARNING about cellphones from a bunch of well-paid TV writers and producers, who probably spend most of their day using cellphones, the internet, texting, computers, taking endless cellphone calls all through the day, chatting, pitching projects, asking for people to be re-assigned or fired, and the going home and going on the internet. That's funny, that's irony, because you know what?: I just had that warning, via Homer Simpson, from people who probably will own a succession of cellphones their whole life, while I, Tigus, will never want a cellphone (I love a quote in a novel I read...cellphone: "the Devil's Tool", but that's just me...), and I'm sitting there--at the SAME TIME LAUGHING AND ANGRY, thinking "okay, you two-faced hypocritical fuckers who think you're so clever, thanks for the warning, I'll take it under fuckin' advisement.". THIS novel is an extension of ALL THAT.
Okay, I may not need to emphasize much else, so I'll pick only two more questions:
Can you think of comparable comedic novels, plays, movies etc.; how are they alike, or different?--Me: This novel is unique, and I have to give it points for that; I was not surprised when the author, in an interview, explained that once he had the idea he was surprised no one had beaten him to it, so he was in a hurry to finish the novel and get it out there first, without telling too many people about it (thieves, I guess he means). That's exactly what I would do. Anyway...well, people who like the film Network might like this; if the whole shocking aspect of "Springtime For Hitler" in the play and film The Producers appeals to you in an ironical way, you could try this book. As for me, I'm going to tell you that Hitler in this book is a teeny bit beaten to the punch, if you look to the time-travel film Time After Time, and see Hitler, in this novel, as a combination of H. G. Wells and Jack the Ripper as they are depicted in that film--and what they represent--when they find themselves transported to San Francisco in 1979. H. G. Wells provides the humor of a man displaced in time, fondling plastic tables at fast food joints because he's "never seen wood like this before", and being puzzled by a Mickey Mouse phone when it rings, etc. etc. Meanwhile, there is nothing funny about Jack the Ripper--he is the serious social commentary all the way--although the nature of his crimes is toned down for the film so it can achieve its Rating. By contrast: if Jack the Ripper is slightly watered down for this interesting SF film, in terms of how he leaves his victims bodies (we don't see anything like what Jack the Ripper really did to women), be warned, the Hitler in Look Who's Back, is NOT watered down when he is thinking or talking about the Jews. It makes the book better, and suddenly serious, but it is of course hard to read, and made this reader stop to take a breath when it occurs in the narrative.
Funniest Joke?--Me: well, this is not necessarily a novel where you're looking for the funniest joke, but some of the Hitler-versus-today's-world stuff was funny in ways I have seen in other time-displacement fiction: For example, Hitler getting on the internet for the first time: Unfortunately I was detained from my research by an urgent communication. Someone with whom I was unacquainted had turned to me with a military problem, and as I was currently without a state to govern I decided to lend my comrade my support. Thus I spent the following three and a half hours engaged in a naval exercise by the name of "Minesweeper". (page 110 of Look Who's Back by Timur Vermes, translated by Jamie Bulloch; MacLehose Press/Quercus; copyright 2012; English Translation copyright 2015).
There's so much else I could say, but I'll stop there. I can say without any glibness or desire to make light of anything, that I am glad to get back to books that are not narrated by Adolf Hitler. I feel like I went somewhere strange and came back and I am glad to be back.