World War Z by Max Brooks: the book about the zombies. Yes, I know it’s a bit of a strange pick for me. Zombie apocalypses don’t typically fit in with my literary explorations of the human soul, but I’ve decided to go out on a limb here and try reading a book I wouldn’t normally pick up. I have my friend Jenny to thank for this; she lent me this book with a glowing recommendation, and she has great taste, so I was eager to give this a go.
I saw the movie that was based on this book when it came out with my husband. Again, not a movie I would typically jump at the chance to see, but he likes action movies, and I like Brad Pitt so I reluctantly agreed. The film was (not surprisingly), gruesome and disturbing, but kept me interested, which is really all I can expect from a Hollywood flick these days anyway.
The book is entirely different from the movie. In fact, I couldn’t even determine which character in the book was supposed to be the Brad Pitt character in the movie (perhaps there wasn’t one) because clearly the author’s original premise was the only thing that actually made it into the movie. World War Z (the novel) is essentially a compilation of interviews. The narrative of the book is structured as a report put out by the UN to summarize the apocalypse once it had mostly ended. Essentially, the interviewee travels around the world to listen to people’s stories in an attempt to understand how the outbreak happened, how it was fought in each country, and how the clean-up is going.
The apocalypse is kicked off by a virus that turns people into zombies once they are bitten by someone who is infected. So, the world’s population is slowly taken over by the ‘undead’. The only way to kill these zombies is to destroy or puncture their brain. Thus, there are many gory scenes in the book. However, many political issues are also addressed, which is what makes this story not only well-written, but interesting as well. Topics include: what happens in the middle eastern conflict zones when there is an entirely different war that needs to fought, how the open ocean becomes a place that people ‘escape’ to, the strange disappearance of all North Koreans during the conflict , etc.
This novel also does a great job of answering that burning question that would be on everyone’s mind, mainly: what would happen if the world was thrust into a war that involved every single human that lasted years on end? Brooks’s predictions are fascinating. He even addresses the problem of animals and ignored pets; the remaining population trains sniffer dogs that can detect the undead before the virus becomes visible, and all abandoned dogs are put to use on canine teams to aid the greater fight against the zombies. Another interesting point that is addressed are the people who are not actually infected, but begin to act as though they are infected, and bite other people needlessly. Basically, some people have psychotic breaks that make them believe they are zombies anyway, and these groups are a threat of their own. Soldiers are advised to avoid killing them if possible, because the government believes they can be rehabilitated. All of these smaller side effects of this huge war are explored in ‘mini chapters’ throughout the book, which kept me reading late into the night.
I’m not sure this could be called a dystopian novel, because (spoiler alert!) it seems as though human life continues as it did before the outbreak, although the population is severely decimated, and PTSD is at an all-time high. But the world of World War Z seems much like our own, which is what makes it so scary. With the Ebola scare fresh in everyone’s minds, I can understand if people would avoid reading a book like this right now, but it is a very good, and dare I say, educational read.