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3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4 out of 5 stars
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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.
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on 7 December 2012
This could be a good book, it could be a funny book, unfortunately it's almost both but actually achieves neither.
The idea is brilliant, an American Jew travels around Germany to find out what the modern German thinks about Jews. Unfortunately Mr Tenenbom doesn't deliver. He seems determined to show that he is clever and must have spent hours working out his spontaneous put-downs but it just doesn't work. Three hundred-odd pages of "I am intelligent and witty and Europeans are old-fashioned and bigots" wears thin after a while. He ain't no Bill Bryson, that's for sure! I don't feel that he listens to the people he meets nor does he try to understand them. He just looks for a way to be sarcastic or condescending in print.
Obviously an American Jew going to Germany in search of anti-semites is going to have an agenda. I was hoping that he would be open-minded and try to find out why there was so much anti-semitism or whether he is confusing anti-semitism with anti-Americanism. His agenda however, seems to be promoting Israel (even though he denies being pro-Israel) and demonizing all non-Jews as radicals. He does experience the Germans and turns over a lot of stones to find, surprise surprise, nasty things crawling underneath.
It's not well written and is sometimes quite poor. Not as revealing or amusing as Simon Winder's Germania, nor "A year in the Scheisse" by Roger Boyes. A prime example being that when everyone he meets is against a particularly nasty (and illegal) action by the Israeli Navy at the time... For him it's pure anti-semitism and a sign that the Germans are all unthinking Jew-haters. It doesn't enter his head that maybe it has nothing to do with the Jewish religion and everything to do with the Israeli politicians. Just occasionally I have the opinion he should listen to others and consider his own bigotry. It reminds me of the disjointed soldier in a parade thinking "Wow! I'm the only one who's marching in step here!".
This book promises so much but disappoints on many levels.
Needless to say, in Tuvia Tenenbom's eyes this review is probably just another example of anti-semitism and nothing to do with a badly written book.
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on 24 April 2015
This is an entertaining book that exposes an obsession with Jews in Germany. The obsession is correlated with and promotes Jew-hatred (antisemitism), often cloaked as anti-Zionism. The exposé is done through documented conversations. The obsession is in many cases most likely unconscious. Tenenbom brings it to the fore with his creative and incisive interviewing. His comments - often sardonic - are eye-openers, and Tenenbom hopes that thoughtful people, after laughing their way through chapter after chapter, will search for ways to combat this obsession.

Tenenbom explores variations of the obsession - left-wing, right-wing, Muslim, Christian, and diffuse. He experiences that too many people in Germany automatically assume that anything bad they hear about Jews or Israel must be true, no matter how far-fetched the assertions are. And when searching for an understanding of a disturbing problem, they find it natural to think that the cause must be the Jews.

This is also true in many other countries, especially in Europe. However, Germany has a strong relationship with Israel, and according to the most prominent historian of Israeli-German relations, there has been an exemplary reconciliation process. Many Jews, including Israeli Jews, thrive in contemporary Germany. But these conditions will change if the spread of the obsession goes too far. And I shudder to think what will happen in other countries if the obsession is not stopped.

Tenenbom also documents a tendency, especially among left-wingers, to have no knowledge of the strengths or history of their own country and culture. The lack of identity and pride sometimes makes them hunger after a Cause - which in this case is Jew-bashing, often disguised as caring about the Palestinians. Criticism of Israel is one thing. Obsession with Jews and the Jewish state, Israel, is quite something else. Choosing to focus on justice for Palestinians is one thing. Choosing to believe that all of their woes are caused by Israel is quite something else.

A final note: The book was commissioned by an editor at a German publishing house, and the manuscript was ready in early 2011. When the top boss saw the manuscript, he demanded extensive editing in order to cloak over the antisemitism. He even wanted to change what people said - in their own words - about Jews, to saying something about Israel. So Tenenbom found another German publisher who exercised considerably less censorship; they just removed about half a dozen interviews. In 2014 a publisher was found who released the uncensored international edition. This is the edition reviewed here.
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on 29 July 2015
insightful - he makes friends with, gets up close to and asks probing and naïve questions which unearth insights - some of which are quite disturbing. He style is easy to read, often funny, not scientific but nonetheless of value
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on 28 March 2016
This book is by turns funny & alarming.
an essential read in today's Europe.
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on 28 June 2014
A book that vomits unfunny stuff on cultures other the North American and the Jewish! Deeply disliked it, ever so self indulgent and superficial. I encourage any intelligent and critical reader to stay away frm this!
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on 28 August 2016
Very good, funny and worrysome.
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on 15 May 2014
What a sad, simplistic book. This book is an insecure and childish piece of attention-seeking: cartoonish, cynical and feebly wisecracking.
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