Look Who's Back by Timur Vermes
Published by MacLehose Press on April 3rd 2014
Genres: Germany, Literary, Satire, Social Issues
Berlin, Summer 2011. Adolf Hitler wakes up on a patch of open ground, alive and well. Things have changed – no Eva Braun, no Nazi party, no war. Hitler barely recognises his beloved Fatherland, filled with immigrants and run by a woman.
People certainly recognise him, albeit as a flawless impersonator who refuses to break character. The unthinkable, the inevitable happens, and the ranting Hitler goes viral, becomes a YouTube star, gets his own T.V. show, and people begin to listen. But the Führer has another programme with even greater ambition – to set the country he finds a shambles back to rights.
Guys, stick with me. I know you’ve just read the synopsis for Look Who’s Back and are thinking, ‘What in the ever-loving hell…’. Let us begin at… the beginning. I didn’t know this little gem of a book existed until The Morning News put out their longlist for the 2016 Tournament of Books. I read the synopsis there and became really intrigued and Oh. Em. Gee… you guys.
Look Who’s Back might be the best satire that I’ve seen since Catch-22… and I mean that since Catch-22 was published. After reading the first quarter of the book I started to describe it to a co-worker, he asked me if it was a treacly book about Hitler learning how wrong he was about his views. I can assure you mein Reader, it is not. Vermes packs so much punch into a relatively short book. Since it was originally published in German, one can assume that Look Who’s Back was intended as a commentary on modern Germany, but let me assure you, the commentary fits just as well for modern America and probably modern western culture.
I found it especially astute and chilling in the wake of Donald Trump’s seemingly never-ending successes within the national polls… and some of the commentary he’s made. As chilling and on point as the satire is, the book is also hysterical in its execution (as all good satire should be). The use of the first person narrative (from Hitler’s point of view) is often a source of giggles, this device, oft used in many a tale about displaced time travelers, seems all the more potent because… well… it’s Hitler.
There is very little world building (how did Hitler just wake up in a field in 2011? Why not the rest of his retinue? Why doesn’t he remember his suicide?) and as much as a fan of world building that I am – I think it was a stroke of genius for Vermes to omit that and have Hitler himself gloss over it – for more important matters.
I don’t believe that any blogs that I read on the regular have reviewed this book. In fact it wasn’t even in Creative Whim’s Ultimate Book Blogger Plugin. Regardless. I found a much more eloquent review over at 1streading’s blog.
This should change now. I know it sounds a little off, maybe a little distasteful, but just trust me on this one.
Readers! Who has read this one? Has anyone read it in the original German? Do I sound insane?
Time // 10:38 PM EST
Reading // EVERYTHING! Honestly, I’ve been reading like a crazy person the last week or so and it’s absolutely magnificent. I finished two Tournament of Book long list titles, the entirety of Joe Hill’s amazing graphic novel Locke and Key, an ARC, maybe two… In short, I probably have about ten books I need to review but I don’t want to stop reading long enough to write a review post. It feels goooood. On the other hand, I need to crack down next week at…
Work // Last week of court for the year for me. Tons to do tomorrow and the rest of this week so I guess I’m really going to have to crack down on myself. Made myself write a review of a delightful book that ended up on the Tournament of Books 2016 long list. It should go live in about an hour. Speaking of…
Tournament of Books!!! // Obviously I’m thrilled the long list has been released, just as obviously there’s no way I can read the entire long list. Take a look, what interests you? Personally I think Mort(e) sounds just weird enough to be amazing. We’ll see.
I think I’m going back to the books, Reader. I’m about a quarter of the way through David Mitchell’s newest Slade House. (I know, late to the party.) What are you reading?
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Published by Random House on September 15th 2015
Genres: Fiction, General
Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed. With stunning revelations and multiple threads, and in prose that is vibrantly alive and original, Groff delivers a deeply satisfying novel about love, art, creativity and power that is unlike anything that has come before it. Profound, surprising, propulsive and emotionally riveting, it stirs both the mind and the heart.
So, Fates and Furies is a book that broke one of the slumpiest slumps that I’ve had in a long time. I read it because I’d already told the gals at The Socratic Salon that I would. I steeled myself to be bored out of my mind during Lotto’s section, as I had been forewarned by so many people. But I actually found myself enjoying it.
Sure, as a character Lotto is self absorbed, one dimensional, and really grows… not at all. But he does some charming things and I must admit that I was especially intrigued by his obsession with the opera composer towards the end of the section. However, Mathilde’s section was absolutely stunning and I don’t think that the reveal would have worked the other way around. Unbeknownst to poor Lotto, Mathilde is ‘the fury’.
Mathilde is amazing and dynamic, honestly Groff has produced some of the best writing I’ve seen in a long time in the second half of this novel. I found it to be literary but not inaccessible. I think that if one so desired, this book could be read at strictly a surface level and still be very enjoyable. But the real enjoyment for me came with delving a little deeper and looking underneath the surface of Groff’s prose to find such amazing depth and breadth of characters.
What about you, Reader? Read any excellent literary fiction lately? Have you read Fates and Furies? Don’t be shy, join us over at The Socratic Salon to discuss it!
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on March 10th 2015
Genres: Asian American, Coming of Age, Fiction, Literary, Sagas
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he'll not only be unable to overcome--but that will define his life forever.
It’s inarguable that A Little Life is beautifully written and takes the reader to dark places that most of us would rather not go, which is normally a plus for me, but unlike many readers I wasn’t totally swept away by the this tale.
Not only was A Little Life an incredibly slow start for me (mostly because I didn’t care about most of the early details the characters experienced) but even as I went on I found the book to be increasingly unbelievable. Not so much the horrors that Jude went through, but the incredible good fortune that he kept finding in spite of his past. I’ll save most of that type of discussion for The Socratic Salon.
A Little Life could have probably benefited from some extreme editing, I think it’s about 200 pages too long and has at least three characters that could have been combined into other characters or cut. I love long cradle to grave character study sagas most of the time, but this one just felt… I don’t know, forced? I don’t have a proper adjective.
Have you read this A Little Life, Reader? What did you think? How do you think it will fare in Tournament of Books 2016?
So, things are looking kind of messy in my bracket here. But this week came with some thrilling things happening.
Annihilation v. An Untamed State
No surprise here – An Untamed State took it, which is exactly how I would have it.
Redeployment v. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
It’s hard for me to have an opinion on this one since I didn’t get around to Those Who Leave, I can say that Redeployment was excellent and I was sad to see it go – but didn’t expect it to take the whole Rooster.
A Brief History of Seven Killings v. The Paying Guests
Unsurprisingly A Brief History took this one, it seemed to be dominating the competition thus far. While I didn’t finish A Brief History I did read The Paying Guests and wasn’t too sad to see it go.
Station Eleven and All the Light We Cannot See came back, not particularly surprising zombies given the rabid popularity of both, but I was holding out some hope that we might see The Bone Clocks come back. C’est la vie.
Station Eleven v. A Brief History of Seven Killings
I would go so far as to call this an upset! Though it was hardly upsetting for me – I loved Station Eleven was thrilled to see it defeat A Brief History before this round I would have put A Brief History in the running to take The Rooster.
Final predictions for next week:
We’re going to see All the Light go up against An Untamed State on Monday. I predict that An Untamed State will previal. Actually – I predict that An Untamed State will take The Rooster. I know it’s ironic because in my original predictions when Station Eleven and An Untamed State were matched up I predicted Station Eleven to prevail. I’ve since changed my mind. I loved Station Eleven and it’s beautifully written but I think that An Untamed State has much more raw power.
In the event that All the Light prevails – I think it could go either way. Both Station Eleven and All the Light are beautifully written and lyrical but in that event I’ll be rooting for Station Eleven – I just found it more enjoyable.
I guess we’ll find out next week!
What about you, Reader? Any last minute predictions? Thoughts? Feelings?
Holy hell. What happened this past week? All my brackets went straight to hell and I am forced to re-evaluate. Of course the zombie picks could (hopefully?) change everything. But based on this week’s commentary — the three that I have poised to win it all have changed to Seven Killings, An Untamed State, or The Paying Guests. The only one I would have put money on before was An Untamed State which I was very conflicted in choosing Station Eleven over. So! Let’s chat.
Station Eleven v. An Untamed State
Look. I was super conflicted over this pick. An Untamed State was fully worthy of winning this match-up and I think I only went with Station Eleven because of my long time love of literary dystopias. I approve of this decision.
Redeployment v. A Silence Once Begun
YAY! I chose well, for a change! Redeployment was such a powerful package of short stories that really spoke to me (perhaps because I am a veteran), whereas Silence Once Begun as lovely as the writing was — simply was too reminiscent of something that had already been done.
Everything You Never Told Me v. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
Could there be two longer book titles matched up against one another? Since I only read Everything You Never Told Me, I really had little opinion on this decision — however, I felt that choosing the third book in a quartet was a bit of a dirty trick from The Morning News people.
Oh dear Jesus. Then there were the Quarter-Finals.
The Bone Clocks v. A Brief History of Seven Killings
This decision hurt me. I loved The Bone Clocks sooooo much. I simply couldn’t get through the density of Seven Killings – and those who know me, know that dense books don’t bother me. Woe. Sad to see Holly Sykes leave us so soon.
All the Light We Cannot See v. The Paying Guests
WHAT? WHAT THE WHAT?! I can hardly understand what happened here with Judge Wolitzer’s (Yes, the Meg Wolitzer) decision. All the Light We Cannot See was such a gorgeously written novel and The Paying Guests was just so… pedestrian to me. It’s the only Sarah Waters book that I’ve read – but I can’t help but wonder if Waters’ name recognition is propelling this book forward.
Dear Lord, Reader. Who knows what will go down next week. I’ve updated my brackets. What do you think?
So you can see that my predictions were only good for The Bone Clocks and All the Light We Cannot See. That’s okay though because so far that doesn’t change any of my overall results. I also realize that by the time you’re reading this that the winner of Station Eleven v. An Untamed State has been announced, but I’m behind the power curve. Let’s talk about feeling the feels.
Adam v. The Bone Clocks
Ugh. Seriously. I really couldn’t believe that the judges showed so much love for Adam. True that it ultimately didn’t prevail – but for a hot minute I was afraid t was going to. Further, I really felt that based on the commentary that The Bone Clocks wasn’t (and won’t) be competing against Adam (and other books in the tournament) but instead seems to be competing against Cloud Atlas, since I haven’t read Cloud Atlas (yet! See the readalong in the sidebar!) I have no frame of reference, but regardless – this isn’t what the competition is about, I feel like The Bone Clocks should be judged against the books it’s competing against, not other works by Mitchell.
All the Birds, Singing v. A Brief History of Seven Killings
I think that this one hurt me because I really enjoyed All the Birds, Singing. However, unlike the first pairing, I can definitely see where the judges were coming from. Although I didn’t finish Seven Killings – it was clear that it was very well written and quite possibly a tour de force. So I’ll accept that loss gracefully.
All the Light We Cannot See v. Wittgenstein, Jr.
Despite the fact that Doerr has connections with The Morning News (I didn’t know that for one…) it’s clear that All the Light We Cannot See beat Wittgenstein, Jr. fair and square. It wasn’t my favorite read of the year, nor did I love it as much as everyone else – but there’s no denying that it’s a beautifully written book.
The Paying Guests v. A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall
This was a disappointment. Not totally unexpected, but still disappointing. I felt like A Brave Man was not only better written, but also more interesting than The Paying Guests. Still, TPG wasn’t a bad novel and I can see how this contest was close, I think that the name recognition may have pulled Waters through this one.
Dept. of Speculation v. Annihilation
This was another tough call when I was filling out my brackets and again, felt like it could have gone either way. Annihilation was admittedly delightfully atmospheric and did have the effect of making me go right out and get Authority and Acceptance. I can live with this loss.
What do you think, Reader? How did you fare with your brackets?
I promised you reviews of these two books this week – but holy cow. This is the second week of my full time employment and trying to ‘have it all’ is freaking exhausting. But no matter! The book blogosphere is full of amazing people who write amazing things. So without further ado, I’m going to present my (very) brief review-lettes as well as some amazing reviews of these books from others in the community.
Everything I Never Told You by: Celeste Ng
Super-short synopsis: A mixed race family in 1970’s Ohio must face the unexplained death of their daughter/sister who had the seemingly perfect life…
Personal thoughts: I liked this book well enough – but it lacked the wow factor that I felt like many reviewers gave it. The mystery behind Lydia’s death along with the family dynamics make this an extremely readable and compelling book.
As far as The Tournament goes: Check the brackets.
Other full and fabulous reviews:
Shannon at River City Reading
Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves
Allison at The Book Wheel
Catherine at The Gilmore Guide
New Century Reading
The Bone Clocks by: David Mitchell
Super-short synopsis: Cradle to grave story of Holly Sykes. Explores many characters relating to Holly’s life as well as supernatural occurrences.
Personal thoughts: I’m a sucker for good character heavy stories as well as cradle to grave stories. The extra supernatural element was a little extraneous for me — but still fit in most excellently.
As far as The Tournament goes: Check the brackets. Also I think that The Bone Clocks has the ability to win it all!!!
Other full and fabulous reviews:
Catherine at The Gilmore Guide
Katie at Bookish Tendencies
New Century Reading
Amber at Shelf Notes
Wendy at Wensend
Have you read either of these reader? Have you read Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell? What do you think?
It’s time! Tournament of Books starts in earnest on 9 March 2015, so I can’t hold back my brackets any longer. Unlike Shannon at River City Reading who shared her brackets last week, I’m basing my picks off of what I would choose, rather than what I think the judges will choose. This is mostly because I am lazy and have not researched any of the judges.
What I’ve Read. I made it through 14.5 of the 16 books. Let me help you with links below.
I started but haven’t finished (and probably won’t in time, if at all) A Brief History of Seven Killings. I also chose not to pick up Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay because it was BOOK THREE of a series – it also didn’t look like something that would interest me so I decided not to undertake 1500 pages of reading to cross it off the list.
Just like Shannon, there are a few match-ups that I’m particularly interested in.
- Adam v. The Bone Clocks – largely because I hated Adam so much… and I loved The Bone Clocks… I want to see Adam completely destroyed, because it’s going to be so delicious.
- Dept. of Speculation v. Annihilation – this was a close call for me, so I’m interested to see how it’s going to come out. The main reason I went with Dept. of Speculation is because it stands alone, which I feel like Annihilation cannot do.
- The Paying Guests v. A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall – there was SO MUCH hype around The Paying Guests, but I really felt like A Brave Man was the better novel. Interested to see if the judge agrees!
- Station Eleven v. An Untamed State – Seriously, to echo Shannon… WHY?! This was definitely the hardest decision in the brackets and again, I feel like it could go either way…
What about you, Reader? How many of these have you managed to get to? Anything you’re looking forward to? Who else is SUPER PSYCHED?!
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Published by Penguin on September 16th 2014
Genres: Fiction, General, Historical, Literary
It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned; the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa—a large, silent house now bereft of brothers, husband, and even servants—life is about to be transformed as impoverished widow Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the “clerk class,” the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances’s life—or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.
What I liked about this book was the way it shook up gender roles within the narrative of historical fiction. I liked that Frances wanted to be independent and live on her own and have a real career outside of being a housewife. I liked that the first ‘friend’ Frances had actually realized that vision.
What I can’t say is if this gives an accurate portrayal of post WWI English life, the NYT says that it does, so maybe my issue is that I’m not a hard-core historical fiction fan, nor am I a fan of romance. I’d categorize The Paying Guests under both of these labels, with a little murder/mayhem thrown in.
Look. This book is a perfect example of a well written book that just wasn’t for me. I only picked it up because of the Tournament of Books and even then was hesitant to do so because I knew enough about the novel to feel like it wasn’t in my usual wheelhouse. (This is not to say that the reading made me uncomfortable in any way, just that it’s not on my interest radar.)
So. If you’re a historical fiction buff with a penchant for a little romance on this side, this might be for you.
How will this fare in the Tournament? I think that it’s a close call with it paired up against A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall – but I think that ultimately A Brave Man will prevail out of the first round. We shall see.
Fabulous differing perspectives found from:
Michael at Literary Exploration
Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books
Andi at Estella’s Revenge
How did you feel about The Paying Guests, Reader? When was the last time you read outside of your genre wheelhouse?