“World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War”
Author: Max Brooks
Allow me to be controversial with you- I am not a huge zombie fan. Let me elaborate- I’m not a huge, indiscriminate zombie fan. I’m not one of those folks who jumps at everything zombie related because truth me told, the zombie genre bores me, plus let’s face it, about 90% of zombie films are absolute shite simply because they depend on gore. So why do I adore Romero’s original “Dead” trilogy? Why am I partial to “The Walking Dead”? Well, simple- they are not just about zombies. The zombies are used correctly as a means of a plot device first and foremost, not made the feature. What makes these endeavours work are the people who are living in the world of the zombies and how they are coping with it. People seem to think that just because there are zombies involved, that absolves the rest of the story, but that’s not the case. When it comes to horror, it’s so easy to get a cheap thrill and it is so difficult to find a book that is far beyond a basic concept. Why should we settle for second best as far as the zombie genre is concerned? If you like your horror intelligent never be afraid to stand up and shout it from the treetops. It is this revelation that has driven author Max Brooks to write “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War”.
What makes those things work for me is how zombies would affect the living, you and I, in the wake of an apocalypse. Zombies are an obvious metaphor for something like the Spanish Flu, or the Black Death- a non-judgemental pestilence that can’t self-regulate, has absolutely no conscious though of its own. Zombies are blameless, just like a virus- they attach themselves onto anything that is they are able to get their mouths on, regardless of who they are, what they are and where they come from. Max Brooks recognises this simple fact in his blockbusting, gut-punching page-turner “World War Z” and takes it above and beyond the call of duty all the while maintaining a very plausible universe that doesn’t seem too far away from ours. After all, as far as any potential pandemic is concerned, all it takes is a little cough…
“World War Z” is told in the style of an investigative reporter going around a post-zombie Armageddon world and gathering accounts relating to ‘human factor’ before, during and after the outbreak. The human factor is essentially a collection of interviewees from all walks of life who have had their own experience throughout this entire catastrophic event and tell their tales of horror, misery and unspeakable moments. Brooks has brilliantly realised just how large scale a global zombie apocalypse can be by studying actual past diseases that have caused massive health scares, all he’s done is give the virus a lumbering, meaty shape. Continental conflicts that arise not only to contain the undead menace but as well as to finally serve so sick, twisted justification for ‘ethnic cleansing’ are written about in well-researched detail to really make you wonder if you can trust the military, recounts of desperate measures being taken in desperate times amongst regular everyday people are sure to make the reader shiver and socio-political issues arise that is certain to make you deeply analyse where you stand on seemingly simple matters. It’s absolutely frightening just how far Brooks has thought about this subject simply because he is writing on paper what every one of us has thought when the notion of a viral end of days has occurred in our minds. As the unnamed chronicler in the book states, there is only so much notice simple statistics can gain from the masses, it’s the experience of a fellow human being that we tend to take notice of, and it is what compels us to think of what we would do in the dire situations the interviewees found themselves in.
What WOULD we do if a loved one was dying of starvation in the middle of winter and you had a sickly neighbour living next door? What would you do if you were the only surviving male or female in a band of survivors? How would feel if your young child had to be put out to stud in order to ensure population growth in a post-apocalyptic world? What would happen to the ecosystem if all the whales had been hunted out and all the bees have disappeared? This books dares to go these places all because these concerns would be entirely legitimate in the wake of a world decimating force and all with a human voice. A human voice that could be us.
There is nothing to despise about this book because it’s not meant to make you feel any one emotion at any given time. There are no ‘main’ characters to attach yourself too, and while you only know one part of each interviewee’s life story, and you may not like what they did, you can’t bring yourself to hate anybody because they only did what they did in the interest of staying alive. Brooks has been wise to ensure every one of his characters, male or female, religious or not, have their own set of values and beliefs. Despite the fact these people are telling their versions of the events they were a part of to the interviewer, which is basically considered hearsay, we find ourselves living through them based on their recollections and we can’t actually say they are lying because we don’t know them. Ours is not to question, but to read and imagine what it must have been like for them.
I honestly cannot praise this book more, in my eyes, this book is a hit no matter if you are a zombie fan or not. This is a story about the people first and foremost, without this factor; this book would not have been as successful or compelling. It is well-planned, well-informed and well-written and you can feel Brooks’s passion to tell a deeply confronting, a perception questioning tale seep through the pages like the black viscous fluid that that sprays out of a zombie’s stomach when it is blown apart. Max Brooks have proven that the horror genre, no matter what the subject matter, can be intelligent and highly thought-provoking as long as we are willing to stand up and say that the genre demands better. Thank you for the boost, Brooks. Now it’s our turn.
Review written by Bea Harper