Review: “World War Z” by Max Brooks

Posted: May 16, 2013 in Novel, Review, Scary Stuff
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I include the “by Max Brooks” part to distinguish this review I will eventually do on the movie (both will probably get a ton of traffic once the movie comes out, I bet). Also, I know I keep saying that I like to put a week’s distance between reviews and it’s only been a few days since I did the review for The Great Gatsby, but this was such a phenomenal novel, what could I do?

As a History major studying the Holocaust and World War II, I read a lot of memoirs by survivors and soldiers alike. As I read Max Brooks’s zombie apocalypse novel, one of the things I was struck by was that it sounded so much like a Holocaust memoir, it was uncanny. And I don’t mean in terms of content–it’s a zombie apocalypse novel, after all–but in terms of how haunted the voices of the characters are. Each section of the novel is a different person’s experience during “The Great Panic” and the war against the living dead, ranging from Chinese to Russian to Chinese to American to South African to Middle Eastern to English and everything in-between. The horrors and haunted tales of each survivor, which are all assembled by a nameless interviewer (Max Brooks in a world that he created, playing the role of reporter, perhaps?) into a single collection of tales, will keep you reading for hours after you should’ve gone to bed.

That’s kind of what happened to me: I was reading late last night, finished the book, and then went to bed. I had the craziest dream afterwards where I lived through my own zombie apocalypse. Just one problem: I didn’t find out what happened to the woman I met in my dream and the baby we were having together! I felt like Dorothy wanting to get back to Oz! Cursed alarm, waking me up in the thick of the battle.

Anyway, another thing I noticed about World War Z was that Brooks thinks of several things that we don’t. I’m not going into detail, but let’s just say that he considers everything from the disadvantages of conventional warfare on zombies, to survival plans foolish and wise, to how the public would react to zombies, and how other people would react to those reactions. It’s so detailed and so well thought-out, you think you’re reading something that actually happened. I’ve read memoirs and history books that have the same level of detail, and it’s crazy how real it all seems. Like Stephen King’s The Stand trying to pass for nonfiction, it feels that real.

A very engrossing read, 5 out of 5 definitely and deserved. I wonder how the movie, which will probably take more liberties than any other book-to-movie adaptation in the history of moviemaking (with the possible exception of Priest), will compare.

Oh, funny story while I have your attention: on Tuesday night, Jews everywhere started Shavuot, one of our more important holidays. During Shavuot, it’s traditional on the first night to have a long study session that lasts late into the night. The study session I attended was divided into two parts, the first consisting of different classes we could take. I took the one on bikkur cholim, which is the commandment to visit the sick but also implies praying and caring for the sick. Near the end of the session and after some lively discussion about the effects of biblical and modern-day quarantine, I asked about bikkur cholim and zombie plagues. The instructor’s answer: “Throw bikkur cholim out the window, and run for your life!” Sounds sensible, doesn’t it?

  1. Nice review! I got a copy myself not too long ago, only started it though. I figure I owe him too! Oh, and from the trailers, it looks like they’re going in an entirely different direction than the book takes. Could be a good action movie, but starkly different from the format Brooks created.

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