New novel by Adam Andrusier: passion and fear of life

Adam Andrusier’s beautiful novel Swap Two Hitlers for One Marilyn is about autograph hunters. And from a modern Jewish family.

Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe

No, not the real one: Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe Photo: Netflix via AP

The former soccer professional Ewald Lienen reports in his autobiography that he was a staunch opponent of writing autographs. If young fans had asked him for his signature, he instead started an enlightening “dialogue”: “What I do is not more important than what your teachers, your baker or your neighbor do. Do you ask them for a signature too?” It probably depends on the neighbors.

If all the celebrities of this world shared Lienen’s categorical attitude, Adam Andrusier’s delightful book “Swap two Hitlers for a Marilyn” wouldn’t exist, in which the Briton, born in 1981, describes how, after a failed career as a pianist, he first asked for autographs and finally – as a reaction to an increasing ” Reservations about the mechanisms of autograph hunters’ “passion for collecting” – became such a renowned autograph dealer that Zadie Smith made him the protagonist of a novel.

In Andrusier’s debut, one learns interesting things about the conventions of the autograph trade: how to get addresses (will it work to write to “Frank Sinatra, USA”?), trade shows where they trade, and about Extreme collectors who have specialized, for example, in the signatures of serial killers, but above all in how differently stars deal with the tedious task of writing and sending autographs.

From an early age, Adam Andrusier has had both good and bitter experiences collecting autographs – and not only acquired the necessary skills to distinguish the real from the fake and thus become a successful dealer, but also to recognize the “value of truth”. .

Adam Andrusier: “Trade two Hitlers for one Marilyn”. Translated from the English by Dirk van Gunsteren. Unionsverlag, Zurich 2023, 309 pages, 24 euros

All this is very entertaining and amazing, above all it is very clever how Andrusier links the stations of his life story with individual anecdotes about experiences and partly personal encounters with celebrities, from Sinatra to Miles Davis and Boris Yeltsin to Monica Lewinsky. And yet it is only a narrative occasion and surface.

Weird quirks

Actually, Andrusier’s aim is to tell the story of a modern Jewish family in the British diaspora, especially the father, a successful London financial advisor with various bizarre quirks: it’s harmless that it’s him who leads the son on the path of collecting autographs , his penchant for constantly photographing family members, whose faces he then assembles with the bodies of famous people, is alarming.

Totally neurotic, his actual “hobby”: collecting postcards from European synagogues that were destroyed by the Germans. While his wife’s grandparents were murdered, none of his ancestors were harmed, as they had emigrated to England in good time. And yet his manic fixations on National Socialism can be read as traumatic reactions, perhaps compensations for fears of life. The family will break from these extreme manias.

Andrusier tells this story with a sense of humor that has elements of what is considered “Jewish humor” in its (self)-irony and blackness. The very sad and the very funny enter into a symbiosis in an exhilarating way.

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