“The official report was a collection of cold, hard data, an objective ‘after-action’ report that would allow future generations to study the events of that apocalyptic decade without being influenced by ‘the human factor.’ But isn’t the human factor what connects us so deeply to our past?… 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’?”
World War Z, by Max Brooks
Crown Publishers, September 2006
342 pages (hardcover)
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.
When I first heard about this book, I wasn’t into zombies. At all. No interest whatsoever. Still, I’d heard really good things about it and was curious about the whole “oral history” angle, so I added it to my TBR, where it languished for a couple years.
In the meantime, I’d started to open up and read a few zombie books. They’re still not anything I find myself looking for, but they’re not anything that needs to be overcome either. If I read a book description or review that sounds intriguing, I’m not going to let it sit at the bottom of my TBR because “I don’t care about zombies.”
So that’s where I was when I finally picked up World War Z.
I’d say that, in my admittedly limited experience, this is one of the most realistic looks at what a zombie apocalypse might really be like. I really liked how we got the entire story. The first outbreaks… the confusion, misinformation, and disbelief that followed… the desperate attempts at survival…
Yet, I found myself unsatisfied. I think the book does exactly what it sets out to do, but a single character or a small group I could live vicariously through would have grabbed me a lot more than these disjointed stories. It took me a while to realize that some characters were recurring, but even once I did, I couldn’t remember which earlier stories belonged to them. Some were better than others, but the book couldn’t consistently hold my interest.
And it was all the more disappointing because I’d fallen in love with the introduction. The quote at the top of the page, this idea of writing down the stories deemed irrelevant by those more interested in “cold, hard data,” filled me with a sense that I was about to read something incredible. World War Z is a good book, but it didn’t live up to that early promise.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that a novel masquerading as nonfiction might be a little dry. I guess I was just expecting more. I was expecting the human factor. And I’m not sure I got it.
Does World War Z sound like something you’d pick up? Do you like short snippets creating a larger story, or do you prefer a more traditional narrative?