World War Z: Book Review

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks Published in 2006
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
Published in 2006

First, a note on post-apocalyptic fiction. I love it. I love it so much. But this love is in spite of one major, glaring issue – they all tend to focus on one part of world. No points for guessing which part of the world is usually the focus…

World War Z – both book and film – share a quality that I love. The entire human race is threatened, and the threat is shown from all over the world. Yes, there is still a strong focus on America, but major incidents and significant parts of the story happen elsewhere in the world. All I have to say about this fucking finally.

World War Z is a wonderful book that had a great tragedy befall it – a terrible movie. If the two did not have the same title, I would not have thought that the latter had anything to do with the former.

World War Z the film is about zombies. Brad Pitt flies all over the world to stop the zombies. A magical solution to the zombie problem is found. By Brad Pitt. When everyone else has failed. Yay Brad Pitt!

World War Z the book is a completely different story. There is no central protagonist and no magical solution is found. The book, instead, shows us a path from denial (placebo drugs and calling the virus rabies), to a state of international panic, to some great losses (the battle at Yonkers), to a cruel method to salvage what is left of the human race (the Redeker plan, for which the creator is said to be damned), to a slow rebuilding of human society amidst the social, political, economic, religious and environmental changes brought about by the zombie war.

A few strong figures emerge (Jurgen Warbrunn, Paul Redeker, General Raj-Singh), but none of them become a hero. Redeker, for example, is said to be dispassionate at best, and to be damned at worst. Raj Singh is known more for his battle strategy, and never speaks for himself.

But the fact that these two figures stand out in my mind illustrates what I simply adore about this book – this is tragedy affecting the entire human race. The report identifying the problem is written in Israel. The first major outbreak is noted in Cape Town. A major defeat – showing the weaknesses of military methods against the zombies – happens in Yonkers. General Raj-Singh develops a military tactic for fighting the zombies in India, and it’s mentioned throughout.

Large portions of the story are shown to happen elsewhere. We hear from survivors in the UK, in Germany, in Russia, in China, in Japan, in Korea, amongst many others.

Finally. Fucking finally.

The novel has garnered criticism for its lack of traditional narrative form. One cannot draw a narrative arc for this novel – not really – because of all the different stories it contains. No protagonist ever emerges. I would advise those who argue that this makes the book worse to watch the film. That has a traditional narrative structure and a protagonist.

If that's what you want, here you go!
If that’s what you want, here you go!

That isn’t what this book is meant to be. One narrative with a protagonist? That would completely defeat all that people praise about this book, and what I so love about it. The zombie plague affects the entire human race, and this book is more about the plague than it is about the people. The human race speak out in multiple voices about what they have seen and survived. And that is what makes the novel all the more powerful.

And yes, it is hard to translate that into a film. It’s been said before – the two share little more than a name.

I highly doubt that the film will stand the test of time. It’s not one I’m dying to show my friends who haven’t seen it. There are too many good post-apocalyptic films out there for them to see.

The book? The book is one of those that I’m desperate to get everyone to read. It’s so fucking good.

(Also, as an aside – I love how often SA gets mentioned in this book. The South African plan saves the human race. SA creates Radio Ubunye, the prototype for Radio Free Earth, the station that seeks to spread information and dispel myths about the zombie plague. For once, I was actually able to connect with one of these stories, because it really seemed like it could happen in my world.)

TL;DR – Read this book dammit! It’s well written, it’s engaging, and it’s a brand new take on a very old story. Don’t assume it’s going to be anything like the film – it’s so, so, so much better.

I loved it the first time I read it, and I know I’m going to read it again.


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