Sunday, January 8, 2012

World War Z Review

My goal for the day was to finish World War Z, by Max Brooks.  I started it on New Year's Eve, so it took me a little longer to finish it than my normal five day average for a book. I know when I slow down a bit that I'm not fully engaged in what I'm reading. But today, my husband went to work, so I settled in to finish the last 25%.

Since it was Sunday, I went to spin class at 11am and had the rest of the day pretty much free, so I finally got to relax over a cup of tea, in my Anthropologie Homegrown Mug. How cute are these?! Yesterday we went to an opera matinee and then shopping so I never got to enjoy reading over tea.

Anyway, then it was time to get comfortable on the couch, with one of my favorite Christmas presents (I should really say two of my favorites - see the photo below) to finish the book.

So Max Brooks, the unofficial king of zombie literature, wrote this novel as a collection of personal narratives from a world wide war against zombies. I was intrigued by the premise, but had put off the book for a while because I had read Robopocalypse over the summer and read that World War Z was pretty similar, except with zombies instead of robots. Of course Robopocalypse came second and I have to admit that I wasn't really interested in robots, although it was scary to think about our technology like smart cars going against us. What I did like about Robopocalypse was that the same group of characters were revisited in each section so that you saw the war through a small group of people's recollections.

Max Brooks created dozens of characters and rarely revisited any of them, except towards the end. On the plus side, this meant that if there was a character that you didn't like, you probably didn't see them again, but of course if you were intrigued by someone's survival story, you never got to follow through on what happened to them during the war to explain why they were alive "today" when the narrator was collecting the stories. It also was difficult to remember characters from the very beginning who showed up again much later on.

The book is divided into eight sections: Warnings, Blame, The Great Panic, Turning the Tide, Home Front USA, Around the World and Above, Total War and Good-byes. Each section features various characters and their interactions with zombies. Some were military, the rest were civilians from various places around the world.

Some of the vignettes were excellent. I got pretty choked up during a story of a guy who lived out the war in Windsor Castle and talked about how the queen refused to leave and go into safety. He also talked about how medieval castles were used in Europe for protection, which made me start thinking about the Cloisters  or the barn at Hancock Shaker Village, which are some of the closest buildings to castles that I have around me. There was another story about a handler for the dogs who were used during the war and how these tiny dachshunds were used to sniff out zombies. One of the best was about a blind survivor from the atomic bombs in Japan who lived in a state park during the war and fought off zombies using his other senses. His story briefly gets revisited at the end, which was nice. The one character that was revisited the most, Todd Wainio was the most interesting to me because we saw the most from him. So I guess that was the book's biggest failing. At first it was fascinating to read about all these little moments from various parts of the war,  but then since there were so many characters, it was hard to care about the story overall. I saw this review, which I completely agree with: "Keith Phipps of The Onion'The A.V. Club stated that the format of the novel makes it difficult for it to develop momentum, but found the novel's individual episodes gripping."

Brooks never states when the book is supposed to take place. It's obvious that the initial outbreak took place sometime in our present (because of all the pop culture references: Waterboy, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Michael Stipe) and I'm pretty sure at one point it was stated that the narrator was collecting stories from twenty years after the war was over. So the WWII survivor would have been crazy old, and probably not up to killing zombies in a park. As a history teacher, I like clear timelines, so I found this a bit frustrating.

A couple things really stood out. There was this thing called the Redeker Plan, which was developed by an ex-apartheid government official in the book. The plan called for the government, military and a select group of people to be secured in a safe zone in South Africa, while the majority of people were left outside as living targets for the zombies. That plan ended up being adapted in most of the world, which is a scary thought. As an East Coaster, I was a bit freaked out by American running to hide behind the Rocky Mountains. Another things I found interesting was that many of American's immigrants became the saviors of society. In California, there were all of these white collar people who had no concept of how to labor for a living, while the immigrants ended up being used to teach the former 1% how to live. Brooks made the point that the blue collar workers and immigrants knew how to fix things and how to survive without a lot so they ended up rebuilding society. And of course, being an apocalyptic book, the whole theme is that the world needs to work together in order to survive as a species.

The wikipedia page for World War Z summed that up well:

Reviewers have noted that Brooks uses World War Z as a platform to criticize government ineptitude, corporate corruption and human short-sightedness.[5][6] At one point in the book, a Palestinian youth living in Kuwait refuses to believe that the dead are rising, fearing it is a trick by Israel. Many American characters blame the United States' inability to counter the zombie threat on low confidence in the government due to conflicts in the Middle East.[7] Brooks also shows his particular dislike of government bureaucracy. One character in the novel tries to justify lying about the zombie outbreak to avoid widespread panic, while at the same time failing to develop a solution for fear of arousing public ire.[8][9] Alden Utter, a reviewer forThe Eagle, notes similarities between the government's response in the novel and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: "Early warnings are missed, crucial reports go unheeded, profiteers make millions selling placebos, the army equips itself with tools perfect for the last war they fought and populations ignore the extent of threat until it is staring them in the face — this is, surprisingly, a post-Katrina zombie tale."[10]
Brooks has also criticized American isolationism:
I love my country enough to admit that one of our national flaws is isolationism. I wanted to combat that in World War Z and maybe give my fellow Americans a window into the political and cultural workings of other nations. Yes, in World War Z some nations come out as winners and some as losers, but isn't that the case in real life as well? I wanted to base my stories on the historical actions of the countries in question, and if it offends some individuals, then maybe they should reexamine their own nation's history.[1]

While reading, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could survive a zombie apocalypse or other world wide disaster that cannot be controlled or reasoned with, which was what drove Brooks to write this: "The lack of rational thought has always scared me when it came to zombies, the idea that there is no middle ground, no room for negotiation. That has always terrified me. Of course that applies to terrorists, but it can also apply to a hurricane, or flu pandemic, or the potential earthquake that I grew up with living in L.A. Any kind of mindless extremism scares me, and we're living in some pretty extreme times."

I am interested in how this is going to be a movie. I read the other day that it was going to be a trilogy, which means that the writers are going to have to create a stronger narrative and stand out characters that last beyond one scene. Brad Pitt is going to be the narrator, traveling the world after the war to collect stories. It will be release on (of course) December 21, 2011... when I will be too busy hiding out from whatever end of world stuff is going to be happening to go to the movies. haha

Next up is Death at Pemberley by P.D.  James. I'm usually opposed to authors writing sequels to famous books. I really enjoy Jane Austen (I've been reading one Austen a year for the last two years) but not so obsessively that I wouldn't read this. I've never read any P.D. James but I do like mysteries. Plus my mom really liked it so I'm giving it a shot. Stay tuned for the review!

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