World War Z

Max Brooks
342 pages
2006
I think that most people would rather face the light of a real enemy than the darkness of their imagined fears.
World War Z by Max Brooks

While I know several of my friends have read The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z, and loved the books, I just hadn’t found time to read either one. However, when I saw the trailer for World War Z, with Brad Pitt, I was intrigued. I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

The book is told in a collection of interviews with survivors of World War Z, the war humanity fought against the undead threat. It is approximately 10 years after the start of the war, and thing are still changing as a result of the war. But through a variety of characters, from many different countries, and with very different stories of how they survived, we are able to understand what happened during the war, from the initial outbreaks, to the full panic, to the slow recovery from the world war.

I will admit that the introduction was a bit boring, and didn’t make much sense to me when I started the book.  It wasn’t until after I finished and re-read it that I appreciated it. The first interview confused me. I didn’t realize what it was, and I was surprised to find the speaker was an older Chinese doctor, as I had expected it to be from Brad Pitt’s characters point of view. I quickly realized that the main character is the person conducting the interviews, and many of the people being interviewed are only seen once in the story. It was a bit jarring at first, but then I really grew to like this method of storytelling; it reminded me a bit of The Laramie Project.

I think the strength of this book is Brooks’ ability to create so many believable characters. Honestly, the breadth of characters is astonishing. There are people living on every continent (including Antarctica). There are some that were just civilians throughout, but many of the characters were or are in the military, from the base level up to the top levels. Some characters are likable, and you understand the horrors they have survived, others have survived through craft and deception, and they are truly repugnant. There were a couple that stood out to me. One was a French man, who is the brother of a hero of the war. He talks about hearing the final moments of his “baby brother”, which was hard for me as an older sister. My other favorite was when a man closely connected with South Africa’s controversial plan that saved them is interviewed. There was a sad twist at the end of his story.

The way that Brooks was able to slowly build the story is amazing. All the pieces fit together slowly, and parts of one story connect with those in a later chapter. The consequences of one action are seen by those who talk later.

I also loved the hints and allusions to how geopolitics are currently. My favorite was the mystery of what happened to North Korea. The way that the different countries reacted was believable to me, and they all have their own crosses to bear after things have calmed down. There were times were it was a little American centric, but with the only consistent character being American (the only thing I was able to learn about the interviewer), this is understandable.

While there are still some questions left at the end, and still so much to do to recover, the book ends perfectly. I read this all in two days, and had trouble putting the book down. It honestly felt like I had read survivor accounts from a war. It showed the strength of the human spirit, but also the difficult questions governments and people must do when there is no perfect solution. When you cannot save everyone, what is the best course of action?  Can you justify why some lives will need to be sacrificed?

Final Verdict: A great book for those who prefer non-fiction or those who want a different sort of post-apocalyptic story.

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