This is the story of the world’s first, and hopefully, only zombie holocaust. It’s a collection of private stories told by survivors about ten years after the initial viral outbreak that eventually brought the world to its knees. These stories are presented in an effort to “humanize” the events that were officially chronicled, and presented to the UN, by the researcher who collected them.
Brooks’ tale follows the unbelievable chain of events in roughly chronological order, from the beginning to the aftermath. Every personal story is like a brightly-colored skein of yarn, which the author ultimately fashions into a fascinating story-garment. From the Chinese doctor who stumbles across Patient Zero while on a house call in the middle of the night in a town that had no official existence; to the soldier who barely survived The Battle of Yonkers (in a classic example of a military clusterfuck); to the blind hibakusha who was saved from a zombie by a bear – we meet an international cross-section of survivors – good people, bad people, people “in the know” who should have known better, and people who did “know better” but who couldn’t seem to stay out of their own way (thinking here of that group of celebrities on Long Island who televised their nice, cozy sanctuary to the whole world, much to their eventual regret).
I loved so much about this story — the different voices, the realistic detail, and the clear-eyed gaze with which Brooks looks at his fellow human beings. I can honestly imagine every single horrible event he described actually happening – the guy who created and sold the false zombie vaccine, Phalanx? Definitely. The horribly jaded former White House Chief of Staff who belittled and minimized the early Israeli report on the outbreak, and then denied and covered up the mess when it hit America? Ditto. The illegal organ transplant doctor who helped the outbreak take root in South America by giving a wealthy patient a zombie-contaminated heart from China? Bitch, please.
However, for every realistically awful thing Brooks describes, he matches it with some realistically nice moments — like the Indian fisherman who rescued a struggling swimmer, and then refused to take any money from him; and the downed pilot who got “saved” by a voice on the radio that refused to let her quit. There were many others, too.
My point is, that Brooks’s story is an amazing, multi-layered, cleverly constructed bunch of bits that somehow manages to be one of those wholes which is greater than the sum of its parts. However, for the reader who wants to skim through the book in typical grad student fashion — gleaning the “important parts,” and getting the “gist of it” – this book will thwart you at every turn. It can be, and is, absolutely maddening that way.
I also loved the movie based on the book. And while very different in structure – the movie actually had a traditional story-line structure – it still managed to remain true to the book, while adding little bits of its own (scary-fast zombies, I’m looking at you).
It’s funny, but I read an interview with Max Brooks concerning this book, and its predecessor, The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead. Mr. Brooks, son of immortal funny man, Mel Brooks, actually fears that the zombie apocalypse could really, really happen, and that he wrote these books as way of coping with that fear.
So whether you love it, or hate it (or think it might actually happen someday), it’s hard to deny that there are some real pearls in here.
Brooks, Max. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006. Print.