Book Review #24: World War Z
Author: Max Brooks
Genre: Science fiction
Days to Read: 13 days
Synopsis (as taken from Goodreads): 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.
My Thoughts: I read this book after countless people referred it to me, including my boyfriend who even lent me his copy. I didn’t really know what I had gotten myself into nor what to expect prior to reading it, which was good because then I had no expectations for it. On the whole, though, I was pleasantly surprised.
I’ll be upfront right now and say I’ve never read a single zombie book, and my experience with zombie movies narrows down to Zombieland, I am Legend, 28 Weeks Later and Warm Bodies. I’m kind of a wuss when it comes to scary stuff, which is why I’ve avoided this topic for so long. But after many reassurances that this book isn’t gory or gruesome, I agreed to reading it. And oh boy, am I glad I did.
World War Z isn’t like anything I’ve ever read before. It’s entirely an island unto its own. Although some reviews on Goodreads gave the book one or two stars for its style, I couldn’t agree less. As a journalist myself, I really liked seeing this story unfold through a series of interviews. It was a refreshing take from the age-old story structure you see in most books. The story still had a beginning, middle and end, but it was just written differently. I loved seeing the story of the Zombie War (or World War Z, The Crisis, The Dark Years, The Walking Plague, or Z War One as it’s called around the world) through the eyes of people just like us—mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, elderly, doctors, journalists, politicians, soldiers, students and K-9 retirement home managers… It was chilling the way some people described their experiences. Brooks made me feel like this was actually an historic event, that these people all had experienced something of the utmost horror, that the world was rebuilding itself. Many times I had to stop myself and remind myself that this is just a story.
Of course, like with every book, there are some issues I had. I found many of the interviews shared the same tone and voice. There wasn’t a whole lot characterization throughout the various interviewees, which disappointed me, but didn’t make me dislike this book altogether. I can sort of see past this, though… I mean, if we had actually gone through what these people had gone through, wouldn’t many of us be almost displaced from human emotion and merely feel like outside ourselves…through mechanical responses, disjointed from reality and nightmare, hollowed out? And while many of the interviews were interesting to read, there were some that were just plain boring or didn’t add to the story at all. I understand, of course, that not every person you meet will have a gripping tale to tell—but as it’s their story, it’s important to still include it. Brooks traveled the world gathering eye-witness accounts of the War, and he felt compelled to share every story he heard. I admit to skimming through the boring interviews though. But there are some stories that will stick with me for a good long while (and yes, I know these stories aren’t true).
I’ve heard some critics have complained that this story lacked any real “face” or main character. So what? This is a documentary-styled story. In order to gain an appreciation and understanding of the global experience of this War, you couldn’t really have a main character. Brooks didn’t aim at creating a typical story; instead, he chose to create a history. And by compiling interviews as his content, he made it seem both honest and realistic. Because 10 years after a War like that, no one wants to read a “story” of the war—they’ll want to have unflinching accounts of it for future generations, none of that “fluffy” stuff.
What I particularly liked about World War Z was the fact that it didn’t outwardly explain how or why the disease started or spread. As only natural for people, rumours spread throughout the world, but nothing was ever confirmed. I often find sometimes in movies that when they explain why or how something happened, I always find a hole in the reason and can’t see past that. Because nothing is ever fool-proof, especially in stories of zombies, aliens, vampires, and all those other unworldly stuff. So thank you, Max Brooks, for leaving the hows and whys up to the reader’s interpretation!
In the end, I really did like this pseudo-historical account book. It was more than I expected it to be, and while there were some issues with it, I would definitely recommend World War Z to others! So thanks, friends, for pushing me to read this.
Side note: The movie called World War Z is set to hit theatres in July, but don’t be fooled by the title—Max Brooks has said that the only true similarity between the book and the movie is that they share the same title. I’m quite sad about that, but I guess there’s nothing we can do about it but to just enjoy the movie as a separate entitity and try not to compare the book to the movie as much as we normally would.
My Rating: 9/10
“I don’t know if great times make great men, but I know they can kill them.”
“I think most people would rather face the light of a real enemy than the darkness of their imagined fears.”
“The monsters that arose from the dead, they are nothing compared to the ones we carry in our hearts.”
“Lies are neither bad nor good. Like a fire they can either keep you warm or burn you to death, depending on how they’re used.”
“But isn’t the human factor what connects us so deeply to our past? Will future generations care as much for chronologies and casualty statistics as they would for personal accounts of individuals not so different from themselves? By excluding the human factor, aren’t we risking the kinds of personal detachment from a history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it?”
“His last words: ‘On ne passé pas!’”