I almost can’t believe I’m writing this. I just had a conversation with a wonderful author last week, who gave me his book to read and whom I really admire, about why I didn’t finish his work. I told him how beautiful the writing was but there were a few contradictions I couldn’t get past, and that I didn’t want him to think I had dismissed it without thought. I said was telling him all of this as I don’t write DNF reviews because they’re cruel.
Then I got this racist shit book and I changed my mind.
The gist of the plot is that Hitler has woken up in Germany in 2011, with memory only up until just before he killed himself. He’s decided to try to carry out his goals in the modern era, but there’s so much he doesn’t know. Through hijinks and shenanigans he winds up on television as a satiric personality, etc. That’s as much as I got through because I had to wade through anti-Semitic hate speech just to get that far and I finally decided that I was done.
When I first started it, I wondered if some of the hate speech was just German humor that was lost on me in translation (this is a translated book). It quickly became clear that this wasn’t the problem.
A friend of mine sent me this one because he thought the premise sounded interesting but he wasn’t sure if it could be done well, and didn’t trust the reviews he’d read (we see eye to eye on most media). I thought it sounded funny and told him if he sent it to me I’d throw a review up on the site. Granted, I’ve been a little behind on here. I have 7 reviews waiting in the wings and my last procedure gave me a 7-day migraine that still keeps on giving. Oddly luckily enough, this book came along and made me pissed enough to get my writing groove back.
When I told my friend who mailed this to me that I was writing a DNF review, his response was essentially that he sort of expected it as he wasn’t sure anyone could write about the Third Reich and have it be funny at all. I quickly reminded him that Springtime for Hitler was FUCKING HILARIOUS and satire of horrible people can be really funny, when done well. (It’s in The Producers, you guys. Mel Brooks? You’re disappointing me if you aren’t grasping this reference.) Even more disappointing, though, the satire portions of this book are done really, really well.
In the book, Hitler connected with a store owner, then a television station. Most people thought he was method acting and there were so many miscommunications as he learned to use the internet. The fact that Hitler is a bad dude (okay, the worst dude) actually did make these interactions funny, and Vermes surprisingly crossed no lines during them. It was a perfect comedic blend that could be thrown into an SNL sketch. He even made funny observations of our society, like what it must look like to outsiders when we run around picking up excrement from our dogs. Or how when we return to daytime television they summarize what has already happened for us every.single.time. I laughed out loud, a lot. Actually, the humorous plot is the only thing that kept me going for over 100 pages.
The problem is that for some reason Vermes felt like there needed to be character development? I put a question mark because I’m not sure that was the goal; I’m just really hoping because that’s the only justification for pages that go on like this: “Only one thing was gratifying: German Jewry remained decimated, even after sixty years. Around 100,000 Jews were left, a fifth of the 193 figure – public regret over this fact was moderate, which seemed to me perfectly logical but not entirely predictable.” Or this: “It never ceases to amaze me how the creative genius of the Aryan race refuses to be suppressed. This is an axiom I recognized long ago, and still I find myself surprised by how it holds true time and time again, even in the most adverse of circumstances. assuming, of course, that the climate is right.” Or this: “The man had been issued with an order. And he was executing the order. With a fanatical loyalty my leading generals would have done well to imitate. A man following orders – it was as simple as that. Was he complaining? Was he moaning that it was a pointless task in this wind? No he was performing his ear-splitting burdern bravely and stoically. Like a loyal SS man. Thousands of these had completed their tasks regardless of the burden placed on them, even though they could have easily complained, ‘what are we to do all these Jews? It makes no sense anymore; they’re being delivered faster than we can load them into the gas chambers!'” …….. Or this: “As I strolled onward I scrutinized the faces around me. Overall, not much seemed to have changed. The racial measures implemented during my time in government had evidently paid off, even if they had been abandoned by successive regimes. What struck me most of all was the apparent lack of half-breeds. I could see comparatively strong oriental influences slavic elements in any of the countenances, but that had always been the case in Berlin. What was new, on the other hand, was a substantial Turkish-Arab element on the streets. Women with headscarves; old Turks in jackets and flat caps. To all appearances, however, there had been no racial mixing. The Turks I saw looked like Turks; I failed to detect any enhancement through Aryan blood, even though such a development must surely be of interest to the Turks. What such a large number of Turks was doing on the streets remained a complete mystery. Especially at this time of day. They did not look like imported domestics; there was no sense that these Turks were hurrying anywhere…What emerged from their mouths might suffice for communicating the most basic information, but for organized resistance it would be no use at all. Lacking an adequate vocabulary most of them supplemented their utterances with expansive gestures.”
Did I mention I only read 1/3 of this book and the above quotes were just from briefly flipping through those pages?
The thing about Hitler is, and I feel like I shouldn’t have to actually spell this out, you don’t need to know what Hitler is thinking. We know what Hitler would be thinking. He was one of the worst humans to ever live. He would think racist things and then try to play them out in political games. It’s fucked up. It’s fucked up, man. Don’t write it.
What surprised me was the moments you would have expected the author to falter, he didn’t at all. The plot was quite well done and humorous, and I almost wanted to finish it just for that. The problem was that for some reason the author thought I needed the inner monologue OF HITLER along with it to understand why everything was happening, and I didn’t. The last thing I ever needed in my life, especially when trying to sit down with a comedy, was to be inside Hitler’s head reading racist bullshit.
And it is for that, and for that anger, that I DID NOT FINISH. And I don’t recommend you start.
What an asshole.