World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
by Max Brooks
Recommended Ages: 16+ (This book deals with adult situations. It contains passages of extreme violence, including brutal depictions of humanity, and discussions of suicide.)
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World War Z is exactly what it says it is: the oral history of the zombie war. Told in a series of interviews conducted by an employee of the United Nation’s Postwar Commission, the novel takes place twelve years after the declaration of victory in the continental United States. But, it becomes apparent that “victory” may not be the best word to describe the war that has decimated the world. The story begins in China, with a so-called “Patient Zero,” but the interviews are from all over the world. The book contains detailed descriptions of how many countries survived the zombie pandemic, including: the United States, Israel, Russia, Japan, and South Korea.
I approached this book as a run-of-the-mill zombie novel, full of passages of dark corridors and decrepit hands that shoot out from underneath stairwells. Boy, was I surprised. This is, without a doubt, one of the smartest novels that I have read in years. This book provides an extremely detailed and realistic portrayal of a world struggling to recover from a devastating zombie pandemic. Brooks expertly weaves between dark and unsettling stories of zombie attacks to detailed passages of military warfare without slowing down.
Where Brooks truly succeeds is in his social and political commentary. In his apocalyptic future, disputes about the immigration of possibly infected refugees has caused nuclear war between two very unlikely countries. The only country properly prepared for the zombie invasion, Israel, dissolves into civil war because of their inclusion of Palestinian citizens into their secured zone. While the countries that are truly devastated by the zombie war may surprise you, the countries that become world powers during the aftermath definitely will.
Brooks hits the nail on its head when he describes decisions made by governments, especially the United States. The disregard of an extremely significant report on the virus rapidly spreading throughout the world, mishandling of a new “wonder” drug labeled as a vaccine against the virus, and the fear that the U.S. military is ineffectual against the zombies. This is expertly demonstrated in the following passage, from a former U.S. Army infantryman:
“I guess I can see why the powers that be thought that one big stand-up battle was such a good idea. They wanted to show the people that they were still in charge, get them to calm the hell down so they could deal with the real problem. I get it, and because they needed a propaganda smackdown, I ended up in Yonkers.
It actually wasn’t the worst place to make a stand. Part of the town sat right in this little valley, and right over the west hils you had the Hudson River. The Saw Mill River Parkway ran right through the center of our main line of defense and the refugees streaming down the freeway were leading the dead right to us. it was a natural choke point, and it was a good idea…the only good idea that day.”
Very rarely do you encounter a book that lives up to its hype. World War Z is that book. If you only read one post-apocalyptic zombie novel, it should be this one.