Mosaic / Reviews / October 20, 2010

Zombie tales: World War Z

Recently, it seems zombies have taken over the globe with popular movies such as “Shaun of the Dead” and “Zombieland,” but in “World War Z,” zombies have literally, and realistically, overrun the planet. Written by Max Brooks, author of “The Zombie Survival Guide,” “World War Z” is described as “an oral history of the zombie war.” Telling the story as a collection of eyewitness accounts from people who lived through World War Z, Brooks interweaves human struggles with the invasion of the undead in his novel, taking into account the psychological, technological, ecological, and economic impact of a zombie war.

The rise of zombies started with ‘Patient Zero,’ a 12-year-old boy in a rural village in China, who Dr. Kwang Jing-shu was called to examine after the patient had bit several villagers. In his interview, Jing-shu said the boy exhibited no pulse, his skin was cold and gray and watched the doctor “like a predatory beast.” Jing-shu ended his interview by saying, “Who in his right mind could have been ready for this?”

“World War Z” brings up pertinent issues and concerns such as the black-market selling of organs. A Brazilian doctor recounts his assistance in an illegal heart transplant, thus turning his patient into a zombie because the infected heart quickly pumped the virus into the patient’s brain. As people did not exactly understand the threat with which they were dealing, and akin to pandemics in the past, they were ignorant of the dangers. Misinformation spread and panic ensued. As the book takes into account the effects of globalization, interviews often reference the acts of other countries, their history and even other people previously interviewed in response to zombies.

Brooks’ depiction of zombies in “World War Z” is more horrifying than in any zombie movie I’ve seen (and I’ve seen plenty), not only because of the zombies themselves but also because of human reactions to zombies. The interviews recount the ‘Great Panic,’ the period in which people were slowly discovering their zombie plight and were scrambling to escape from and fight against them. They seemed painfully realistic with respect to the mania and desperate measures of which people become capable as the human instinct for survival kicks in. In the book, countries use nuclear weapons and chemical agents in their desperate fight against zombies, killing hundreds of thousands of humans in the process. The tales of self-sacrifice, irrationality and loss compel the reader to ask, “What if I were in their situation?”

Despite containing stories no doubt depressing to the reader, “World War Z” also holds out hope for humanity as it tells how the war against zombies was ultimately won—drawing from human ingenuity, cooperation and the will to survive. The interviews give glimpses of the gradual return to normalcy and the rebuilding of life after a zombie war.

Sheena Leano

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