Monday, November 8, 2010

Who in his right mind could have been ready for this?

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks is a seriously scary book.  As I mentioned in my previous post, World War Z takes place more than a decade after the zombie war has finished, although the infected still have control of certain parts of the world.  It's not a single narrative but instead of collection of interviews and stories from survivors of the war as they look back on "the plague years".  And because this is a history that both the tellers and the presumed audience is already familiar with, the details aren't always spelled out and you, the actual reader, has to fill in the holes. Which means you spend lots of time filling in those uncertainties with your own scenarios and personally, I shouldn't let my mind wander like that.
As the book goes on you do get more and more details about the outbreak but the first two chapters, Warnings and Blame, are so unsettling.  There are few moments when something jumps out at you and they aren't the most gory scenes; these are the things-that-go-bump-in-the-night chapters.  And what's especially frightening is the realism.  The book takes place on the global scale, complete with the prejudices and fighting between countries. Early on Israel figures out what's going on and the country goes into voluntary quarantine, offering asylum to certain people, including "any Palestinian living in the formerly occupied territories, and any Palestinian whose family had once lived within the borders of Israel" (37).  Obviously there has been some Israeli-Palestinian disagreements for the last few millenia, so it's interesting to read the story from the point of view of a Palestinian man whose family goes to Israel for protection.  Anger and suspicion and fear fill his narrative; it's easy to see how the problem could grow so long without a global reaction.

This book is scary not just because of the zombies (although they aren't exactly pleasant)  but also because of how people react in a crisis; those who panic, those who help and those who look after self-interest only. There are all sorts that provide their voice to this "oral history", and many of the people cause just as much harm as the zombies.  Or at least they allow the problem to grow out of control.  There are stories from people on the organ black market, that sold infected organs and helped spread the disease across the globe, there are people who created placebo vaccines that did absolutely nothing to stop the virus but made the inventors lots of money.  This isn't to say the book paints a picture where everyone is evil and corrupt.  One character describes the awful things people did to one another and his description of the good vs. bad people exemplifies the tone of the book, so far anyway: "I'm just highlighting the most extreme negative examples, you understand.  For every one profiteer, or repulsive psychopath, there were ten good and decent people whose karma was still untainted" (72).  And the zombies are pretty terrifying as well.

I really want to check out the audio book version of this novel, but I'm also a little afraid to actually listen to it.  There's a story told by the point of view of a woman who lives in a rehab home for feral children.  She has the mind of a four year old and hearing a zombie attack from a child's point of view is terrifying, especially because she imitates not only the voices of the other people during the attack but of the zombie moaning, the pounding on the doors, the gun fire, the screams.  I fill in enough details in my head for this scene, I don't know how I'd react actually hearing it. 

Title quote from page 21

Brooks, Max. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.  Three Rivers Press, New York.  2006.