Tag Archives: The Hungry and the Fat

The Hungry and the Fat by Timur Vermes (transl. Jamie Bulloch): Marching to Fortress Europe

Cover imageTimur Vermes is clearly not a man to shy away from controversy. His sharp, very funny satire, Look Who’s Back, nailed the internet’s potential for political manipulation with admirable, if unsettling, prescience when Hitler wakes up with a bad headache in 2011 and quickly becomes a YouTube star. The Hungry and the Fat takes on the refugee crisis and Europe’s failure to deal with it in similar blistering style, following hundreds of thousands of refugees as they march towards Germany, all broadcast on prime time TV.

It begins with a new pair of shoes, a joke in a bar and the decision to stage a TV reality show finale in the world’s biggest refugee camp. The hugely popular Angel in Adversity is filmed in a German refugee centre where its star endears herself to viewers by helping with whatever’s needed. It’s an advertiser’s dream: a beautiful woman with a colourful life apparently empathising with others in desperate straits. Not being the sharpest tool in the box, Nadeche doesn’t entirely understand what her producer’s plans will entail, planning her wardrobe for the camp as meticulously as she always does. Off she goes with her entourage to sub-Saharan Africa where she spends the first day sulking in her plush trailer. The TV crew sets about finding her a guide, plumping for the man with the new shoes who they dub Lionel. Ratings shoot up even further as this handsome pair become a couple. When Lionel ‘s hopes of accompanying Nadeche back to Germany are dashed, he comes up with a plan. Perhaps that joke he’d cracked about walking to Germany in his new shoes wasn’t so ridiculous after all. Led by Nadeche and Lionel, three hundred thousand refugees begin making their way towards Europe, moving like a well-oiled machine thanks to Lionel’s enterprising skills. Meanwhile, the audience at home is watching, the politicians amongst them aghast. Surely the marchers won’t make it to Germany.

Just as he did with Look Who’s Back, Vermes takes swipes at the ridiculousness of many of our Western preoccupations and the perniciousness of others. He’s careful to avoid caricature – for all her self-absorption and manipulation Nadeche has a healthy streak of empathy. The politicians’ dismay and alarm at the smartly organised, cooperative operation that is the march and its relentless advance is well done. There are many funny, almost slapstick moments but it’s a novel with a message. Europe’s inability to address the refugee crisis in a humane and fair manner is lamentable. While some countries have offered a welcome, others – including my own – have been parsimonious with their generosity to say the least. When Minister Leubl offers his solution to the impending problem I wanted to punch the air – it’s a wonderful moment – but we know it’s no more than that. As with Look Who’s Back, Vermes’ novel is a little too long but that said it makes its sober point loud and clear while having a great deal of fun doing so.

MacLehose Press: London 2020 9781529400557 576 pages Hardback

Books to Look Out For in January 2020: Part Two

The second part of January’s preview begins with a novel whose jacket seduced me when it appeared on Twitter, way back when. Francine Toon’s Pine is set in a remote Highlands village in the middle of a forest where Lauren lives with her father. When a woman stumbles in front of their pickup at Halloween, Niall takes her back to their house but by morning she’s gone. She’s not the first woman to have disappeared in this place where people keep their secrets to themselves, nor is she the last, apparently. ‘Francine Toon captures the wildness of rural childhood and the intensity of small-town claustrophobia. In a place that can feel like the edge of the word, she unites the chill of the modern gothic with the pulse of a thriller’ according to the publishers. I do like a nice bit of gothic at this time of year.

I reviewed Timur Vermes very funny satire, Look Who’s Back, five years ago having loved its take on Hitler’s return as a media star. The Hungry and the Fat takes a swipe at Europe’s handling of the refugee crisis by the sound of it. After Europe closes her borders, a young refugee spots an opportunity to grab the media spotlight when a German reality TV star visits their camp, organizing a televised march which grips viewers in their comfy living rooms as the refugees head their way. ‘A devastating, close-to-the-knuckle satire about the haves and have-nots in our divided world by one of Europe’s finest and most perceptive writers, in which an outlandish conceit follows a kind of impeccable logic to a devastating conclusion’ say the publishers. I’m expecting it to be squirmingly good.

Rodaan Al Galididi approaches a similar theme from a different perspective in Two Blankets Three Sheets, following Samir Karim who requests asylum after flying into Amsterdam from Vietnam in 1998. He’s been wandering around Asia for seven years, evading conscription into Saddam Hussein’s army, then spends the next nine years entangled in Dutch bureaucracy. ‘Told with compassion and a unique sense of humor, this is an inspiring tale of survival, a close-up view into the hidden world of refugees and human smugglers, and a sobering reflection of our times’ according to the publishers. I suspect this one has a touch of autofiction about it.

I’m finishing this preview with a collection of short stories by Billy O’Callaghan whose My Coney Island Baby I enjoyed so much earlier this year. The Boatman and Other Stories comprises twelve Cover imagepieces which span a century and two continents, apparently. ‘Ranging from the elegiac to the brutally confrontational, these densely layered tales reveal the quiet heroism and gentle dignity of ordinary life. O’Callaghan is a master celebrant of the smallness of the human flame against the dark: its strength, and its steady brightness’ say the publishers. I’m hoping for more of the beautifully restrained writing which characterised his novel.

That’s it for January’s new novels. A click on any title that’s snagged your attention will take you to a more detailed synopsis and If you’d like to catch up with the first part of January’s preview it’s here.

To those of you looking forward to Christmas, I hope you have a lovely time. If, as it is for many, it’s a more complicated time of the year for you, I hope it passes as painlessly as possible. And for those of you who’ve been working your socks off in retail, catering or any other Christmas-driven occupation – I hope you get some rest before you start all over again. I’ll be back at the end of the week, hoping to tempt you with some January paperbacks.