What I’m Reading: World War Z

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

“That book is way more awesome than any book by that title has a right to be.”- my friend Daniel, on World War Z

Daniel is right. This book is truly amazing. I don’t throw around terms like  addictive, compelling, and emotional. World War Z is all three.

WWZ was inspired by The Good War by Studs Terkel, which is a collection of personal accounts from World War II. The novel reads like a non-fiction book, set up as a series of interviews with major and minor players in the conflict. It begins with the doctor who identified the first infection in China and discusses the radical changes that resulted from the various outbreaks throughout the world. Brooks details the experiences of government officials tasked with containing the problem, ordinary citizens who simply tried to escape, and profiteers who got rich off of fear and desperation. Brooks explores warfare and tactics, political issues, survival methods, and social upheaval. And yes, it’s about zombies. And yes, it is amazing.

Far from the typical zombie story, Brooks has crafted a biting social and political commentary that will make you cringe and laugh by turns. China refuses to acknowledge the plague, bleeding thousands of infected refugees from it’s borders. Americans remain steadfastly apathetic, putting faith in a fake vaccine until the problem is too big to be ignored. Israel locks its borders and shoots anything that moves outside the wall. Most of all, Brooks uses the novel to explore the concept of pure war, or war for its own sake. Whereas most wars end when one side meets their objective (i.e. empire-building, political revolution, unseating a dictator, etc.), a pure war will never end. Pure war is destruction and death without an objective.  Brooks illustrates this concept chapter by chapter with the inexorable moan of zombies.

Though I highly recommend WWZ, I must do so with several qualifiers.

Make no mistake: this is a horror novel. War is ugly, especially against mindless monsters who exist purely to consume and destroy. Brooks does not skip over the worst bits of human nature (and zombie nature). One section of the story dealing with those who tried to escape the zombies above the snowline in Canada turned my stomach. I almost couldn’t make it through the chapter. There’s also quite a bit of language, but it depends on which interview you are reading  (mercenaries and profiteers are the worst). In Brooks’ defense, I never felt that any of the language or violence was for shock value. The gory details are precisely what gives this novel it’s realism and emotional impact.

I loved World War Z, despite that I was sure I wouldn’t. Brooks has converted me to a fan of the zombie genre. It is not for the faint of heart, but those who can stomach it will come out on the other side amazed that it was just a novel.

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