Jul 16, 2013

Review: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

World War Z cover
The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. "World War Z" is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.

Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War. Most of all, the book captures with haunting immediacy the human dimension of this epochal event. Facing the often raw and vivid nature of these personal accounts requires a degree of courage on the part of the reader, but the effort is invaluable because, as Mr. Brooks says in his introduction, "By excluding the human factor, aren't we risking the kind of personal detachment from history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? And in the end, isn't the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as 'the living dead'?"

From Goodreads 

Let me just start this by stating something I did not know (and is only kind of important) when I started reading this book. Max Brooks is the son of Mel Brooks. Yes, the Mel Brooks. I have a theory that you can determine what kind of person you are dealing with by which role/movie they know either Mel Brooks or Tim Curry for/from. Storytelling must run in the family, because this was phenomenal! I can't begin to imagine having that many voices and stories in my head and trying to get them all down on paper.

This book is written in interview format with our unnamed narrator (above named Max Brooks) being a UN employee tasked with compiling the data, statistics, & information surrounding the plague's obliteration of the known world. The human stories are what the UN stripped from the report & this book is the compilation of those stories. We hear from so many different people, from every walk of life: teenagers to old timers, business men to black market organ dealers. No one is left unscathed in this assault.

It is difficult to explain, but the book felt so real that at times I had to remind myself that it was still fiction. Max has a deft hand when it comes to immersing you in a story and making you see and believe what the narrator is telling you. I thought the separated sections of the book really helped divide up the different parts to the war. Only hindsight allows us to see these sections, but they are important to the overall flow. Even more important were the stories themselves. The humanity, humility, brutality, & abilities of those who survived is staggering. There are always hard choices and there always have to be scape goats to be blamed for those choices and you got both in this book.

The only thing I wished  I could have heard was the narrator's story. I don't think it would have made a difference, but I would have liked to have a better sense of the kind of person we were listening to. I think you can catch glimpses of him in the question clarifications & reactions to stories, but not quite enough to formulate a decent outline.

Put it this way, this is one of those books you just have to read. It's not like anything else I've read before and I don't know if anyone else could pull it off half as well. I've heard lots of things about the film and my best suggestion is to leave the two as separate entities. They don't really have a lot in common, but they do have some of the basics. I'll probably wait for it to come to the library or Redbox before I see it.

Have you seen the movie? Read the book? What are your thoughts?


swiggett said...

Awesome book. I particularly liked to examination of how different people dealt with it and how society tried to pick up the pieces.

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