Top positive review
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A hilarious and shocking romp around Germany - make your own judgement about its message!
on 11 December 2012
I've read some strange books in my time, but this one certainly pushes the boundaries. At first glance it seems to be a typical travel book in Brysonesque style. But with its title, I Sleep in Hitler's Room - An American Jew Visits Germany, you know from the start that this is going to be not your usual travelogue.
I first encountered it from an article in the English edition of German weekly magazine Der Spiegel, and being a bit of a Germano-phile (I love travelling in the Germany), I thought I would see what it was like.
Tuvia Tenenbom is the son of Holocaust Survivors and also Founding Artistic Director of the Jewish Theater of New York. He was invited to write this book by the publishing company of Rowohlt Verlag, one of the biggest publishing companies in Germany. The company's representative asked him if he I would like to come to Germany, !travel around the country a few months, and write a book about my experiences". By the time Tenenbom had submitted the draft of his book he found himself in serious dispute with the company who evidently did not feel that they have got what they bargained for.
This scurrilous, partisan, rude, hilarious, even wicked book ended up being red-penned to the degree that Tenenbom felt that he could no longer be associated with it and the publishers refused to publish it without the amendments. Tenenbom eventually published the book himself in the USA and finally this year, a German version was published but with quite a number of deletions of passages which may have fallen foul of German law. In the English version reviewed here, you get the complete text, a book which I found to be one of the funniest and also the most shocking things I have read this year.
Tenenbom delights in provocation. He delights in getting himself into situations which will draw out the worst in those he meets. He seems to be on a quest to show Germans in the worst light possible. For example, he never admits to being Jewish, but goes innocently into an extremist bar in Hamburg called Club 88 (the 88 standing for HH, or Heil Hitler) and in conversation with the owner Franks tells him that he is a computer analyst from the United States and that both my parents are German. Needless to say within a short time he is listening to an outpouring of vile and illegal statements about Jews and the Holocaust including the historic accusation that Jews "used to sacrifice their own kids to their God"
Tenenbom is not only intent on finding anti-Semitism among the German right but has a field day finding it among the left also. He visits a left wing demonstration and finds that the main purpose is to protest about Israeli actions against the Palestine. As he travels around Germany he finds that the political consensus is to blame Israel for the problems of the Palestinians and he enjoys confronting Germans with some simple facts about Israel and Palestine to test out the depth of their knowledge.
I found this to be a rather one-sided book but anyone who challenges a political consensus is bound to seem like that. I am glad that I read it and it provided me with several days of amusement, but I can't say that its changed my mind about Germany and the Germans or made me think that the whole nation is anti-Semitic in the way Tenenbom suggests. Tenenbom could have gone to any European country and find the same sort of people saying the same sort of thing. It might even be worse in America which is not exactly known for its liberal attitudes. A great read however which would get four of my five stars, the fifth one being withheld only because I found the book to be a little untidy and in need of an editor at times.