World War Z (book) – A Terrorizing Fable

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Max Brooks’ (son of the famous comedic genius Mel Brooks) penchant for the walking dead was apparent in his first book, “The Zombie Survival Guide.” That book has a detached perspective and was like a home-defense manual that could help oneself to protect from the Zombies.  Brooks’ second book, “World War Z: An Oral History of Zombie War” takes on a wholly different approach. It’s an emotive piece, where a group of people relay their experiences in the zombie apocalypse. For zombie enthusiasts and for those who like geopolitics, this book is a must read. However, a conventional novel reader might get frustrated, since Brooks’ journalistic writing style doesn’t lend any narrative structure.

Brooks’ acknowledgements include historian Studs Terkel, John Hackett, and the Zombie visionary George Romero. In 1985, Studs Terkel wrote a book titled “The Good War”: An Oral History of World War Two. The Pulitzer –prize winning book gave detailed accounts of war from the perspective of ordinary people. Brooks has adapted that non-fiction method to tell a fictional story, where the different stages of an apocalyptic zombie war is encountered.

A series of interviews are conducted by an agent of the UN post-war commission. The apocalypse was defeated and now a UN guy tracks those horrific events. His first of the series of interviews starts in China, where a twelve year old boy got bitten by ‘something’ (while fishing). He gets violent bites other villagers and the Chinese military couldn’t contain the outbreak. The virus starts to spread through rest of the Asia, then to New York, later to South Africa and eventually the whole universe falls under the heartless, flesh-eating creatures. The story unfolds through various interviews and showcases how people all over the world shared that common, horrendous experience.

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Most of the zombie movies encounter the apocalypse through a group of individuals in a localized occurrence. However, the book gives us an eagle-eyed political view.  Brooks satirizes South Africa, through the countries ideology to segregate people (“Reddeker policy”) into safe zones that have been cleared of zombies. Canada opens their borders to everyone except zombies. Israel builds a huge wall and closes its borders to outsiders, except for Jews and Palestinians. The author ridicules Hollywood movies by incorporating a typical U.S. President, who suggests war against the zombies.

Through short snippets, each individual story shows us the good, bad, and ugly side of the apocalypse: the valiant act of Rajsingh; brave ship captains ferries out survivors in the Indian coastal area; the struggles of military’s anti-zombie canine forces serves as a tear-jerker; paranoid Iran and Pakistan starts a atomic war; government-backed bogus corporate extracts money from people by making them believe in a vaccination program (“Phalanx”). The account of downed Air Force officer’s survival is one of the best parts, thanks to a gripping narrative. The survival of a child among the wrecking of ‘Wichita’ was narrated like a lived, authentic experience. The traumatic experience of Russian soldiers, the survival of Japanese teenager and a Buddhist monk brings in originality and freshness to the war experience.

Max Brooks

Max Brooks

Author Max Brooks brilliantly divides the book into eight parts through which we can make out how the war started, what were its darkest hours, and how a working strategy of re-conquest was developed and implemented by what was left of the United Nations. Brooks writing style is very believable and the details in each story indicate us that he has conducted exhaustive research in each character’s area of expertise. Brooks describes a global disaster through the eyes of a racially divided human race, which fails to contain the initial spreading of virus. However, the book takes an affirmative approach from then on, as humanity is forced to come together and overcome old prejudices and divisions in order to survive a shared threat. He opens the book with a vision of hell and ends it with a positive note, saluting the human’s ability to survive.

It would be a futile approach to read the book after watching the “World War Z” movie, thinking that there would be some common ground. Although the protagonist in the movie travels around the world, the things common between the two is the word ‘zombie’ and the title. The movie is nothing but a good old Hollywood entertainer. The hero involves himself in some courageous actions and meets Germans, Israelites and Indian, who are just stereotyped creatures — the usual Hollywood rationalization.

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Max Brooks’ vividly realized vision is excellent to read. It transcends the limitations of Zombie genre and delivers a message, which is right for our times.

 

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