Book Review: Timur Vermes ~ The Hungry and the Fat (translated Jamie Bulloch) (2020)

It was a privilege to read this book. Timur is a German author who’s satirised Germany, Europe and the fundamentals of the immigration challenge. The great immigration of 2015 led to huge social and political dislocations in Germany. Timur’s book recreates that crisis as ‘reality’ TV.

Nadeche Hackenbusch is a reality TV presenter. She’s self-absorbed, vacuous, uneducated with a mountainous sense of entitlement. Her new project is making a series about the largest refugee camp in Africa, which is gruesome. But the camp is transformative for Nadeche. She begins to empathise with them as she noticed, really noticed, the lack of shoes, warm clothes, beds and food and water. Dangerous intellectual territory for someone who’s understanding of complexity is zero.

Meeting Lionel, the refugees gain a human face. Skilful sifting through the camp creates a narrative for their viewers. Nadeche discovers they all want to go to Germany. She thinks, Why not? Her profound sense of entitlement is predicated on everything being possible.

Vermes’s story goes into overdrive. 150,000 refugees decide to walk to Germany with the assistance of a very adroit people smuggler. The logistics of it; the politics of it (some wonderful scenes from Germany’s Ministry of the Interior); the TV producers and management all create a tapestry of unadulterated genius.

This satire is sustained, germane, educational, chilling, political and ‘real’. Unusually I bought this as a hardback. I’m very glad I didn’t wait for the paperback.

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