Like every good zombie story, World War Z is not about the zombies. Sure, they’re there, and they’re certainly an important plot device, but they’re not what the book is about. Instead, World War Z is a global look at the political, social, and psychological effects of reaching the breaking point. This book’s unusual format of transcribed interviews allows a worldwide perspective rarely seen in post-apocalyptic novels. As an American who’s used to having nearly every post-apocalyptic book I’ve read set in America, this really surprised and delighted me!* The story covers so much more than a one-perspective book ever could, with interviews ranging from an entrepreneur who got rich off a fake vaccine to a teenage Palestinian refugee forced to relocate to Israel to a Russian soldier who participated in unspeakable atrocities. Each voice is distinctive and easily distinguishable from the rest – something multi-character accounts like this often fail to accomplish.
One of my favorite parts about this book is how you’re set down in the middle of the action. Reading this book within the world it takes place would be like reading an oral account of World War II in our world. Everyone knows broadly what happened, so the book wouldn’t waste time with a general introduction. And neither does World War Z – it jumps straight into the oral accounts and doesn’t look back. The accounts are often quite technical, or require readers to infer information about the world. This only serves to heighten the believability that this is really a collection of interviews that have been transcribed word-for-word.
This is actually the second time I’ve read World War Z. The first was some time in 2013, when I picked the book up in an airport on my way to or from college. I still maintain it’s the best airport read I’ve ever gotten. On this re-read I noticed several things that had escaped my attention before, one of which being that the same characters are featured multiple times throughout the book. Most of the characters are distinct, but there are a handful whose stories continue throughout the different sections of the book. Once I realized this, I started flipping back and forth, trying to remember if I’d heard from the character I was reading about already. This gave a nice overarching sense of connection to a format with which it would have been easy to get lost. Although honestly, even without the continued stories, this book would have functioned well. Brooks does an excellent job of forming a cohesive plot from the wildly varying stories he tells. Whether you’ve watched the movie which was based on this book or not, I highly recommend reading this, as well. While I enjoyed the movie as a separate creation, it really didn’t compare to the book with its creative, original storytelling.
*If anyone out there has suggestions for non-Eurocentric post-apocalyptic (or apocalyptic, or just sci-fi) books, definitely let me know!
Title: World War Z
Author: Max Brooks
Dates read: July 6-11, 2016
Rating: Five stars