The One Sentence Summary: Survivors of the global zombie war relate their experiences in individual interviews.
The Meat and Potatoes: It’s sometime inThe One Sentence Summary: Survivors of the global zombie war relate their experiences in individual interviews.
The Meat and Potatoes: It’s sometime in the distant future, the dead have risen, consumed more than half the world’s population, and been beaten back. Now that the planet has been retaken by the living, it is time for a look back.
That is the setting of Max Brooks’s World War Z. The narrator is a researcher who has conducted a comprehensive study on the outbreak, the war, and the aftermath. These are the interviews that were deemed “too emotional” for the final report, compiled by the narrator to put a human face on the tragedy. The interviews are with individuals of all races, backgrounds, and nationalities, some civilian and some military, in order to give us, piece-by-piece, the whole story. For example, early on we’re given an account of a revolt in the Russian army, and their unique method of quashing the rebellion. Later, military leaders from other nations discuss the lessons learned from this incident and how it changed their policies. This provides us with a wonderful view of the interconnected nature of this “global war.”
The world Brooks creates in World War Z is very different from our own. Aside from the dead munching on people’s brains, the entire geopolitical scheme is foreign. Prior to the text, the narrator describes the setting of each interview. We get labels such as “the Holy Russian Empire,” the “United States of Southern Africa,” and descriptions such as the “glittering metropolis and bustling harbor” of Havana. Brooks drops these on us, leaves us to theorize, and then slowly explains how the zombie war spawned these changes.
World War Z also contains a healthy dose of social commentary. Early on in the crisis Brooks describes the creation of a reality show in which a varied group of celebrities hide from the zombie menace in a well-stocked mansion behind high walls. He tells us of the Army taking a stand at Yonkers, heavily televised, employing all the high-tech equipment necessary to impress the viewers, but useless against the zombies. We’re also taken north with people escaping to climates where the zombies would freeze in the winter, with no concept of how they were going to survive in that kind of climate. (In the good times everyone gets along, sharing supplies and singing campfire songs; in the bad times, they steal, kill, and cannibalize.) Brooks also showed us how the majority of the workforce would be all-but-useless in such a global crisis. The survivors in the safe zones had to produce food, clothing, weaponry, and a host of other things on their own, and the highly-educated executives and CEOs, their narrow education and experience now useless, had to receive training from immigrant laborers to become productive members of this new society. These are just a few examples of the detail and intrigue of World War Z.
The Praiseworthy: Brooks’s story is richly detailed and imaginative, with every possibility considered and taken to its conclusion, which then feels inevitable. For example, the zombies in Brooks’s world are the traditional slow-moving reanimated corpses who can only be stopped by destroying the brain. With the outbreak and the slow understanding of the true nature of the crisis, many humans try to escape to the sea, hoping a ship will provide them protection against the undead. Many of these refugees are infected themselves, and in their panic trying to swim to ships leaving port, drown and reanimate at sea. The result is millions of zombies walking the ocean floor, requiring divers to wage an underwater war.
—But we aren’t told this story with such pedestrian simplicity. Instead, we see through the eyes of 1) an Indian man trying to escape via a shipyard whose purpose was actually to deconstruct aged ships for scrap metal, 2) a Chinese sailor serving on a nuclear sub that was taken to sea for safety, and 3) an officer in the Navy’s Deep Submergence Combat Corps, tasked with eliminating the zombies remaining in the ocean.
The format Brooks chooses to tell his tale is unique and refreshingly literary for popular fiction. Rather than the simple narration with an omniscient or limited point of view that is common today, we’re given essentially a collection of short stories on the theme of the zombie war, related through the first-person perspective of survivors, via interview with a visible and individualized fictional narrator (who also speaks to us directly in the introduction). In this way, we feel connected with every character, every setting, and every event that transpires in World War Z.
The Shortcomings: Some readers, conditioned by “pulse-pounding,” “adrenaline packed” books that read like action movies may find the interview structure and the exposition of the story a bit slow. However even these readers should gain some satisfaction from piecing the story together themselves rather than being told chronologically what occurred.
The Verdict: I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy good, experimental literature, with creative, unconventional subject-matter. ...more