Author: Max Brooks
Published:Three Rivers Press, an imprint of Crown Publishing, a division of Random House (2006)
Genre: Horror; Speculative Fiction
This book is not what I expected it to be. And that may be a good thing, as It surprised me in a good way.
When I first heard about this book back in 2007, I assumed in was some kind of pulpy zombie novel mixed in with some Band of Brothers for good measure. Then, after hearing and reading about it a bit, I learned it was more of a journal entry style take on a zombie apocalypse. I'm still averse to diary style fiction, so I was a bit disappointed, but still very intrigued by the whole premise of the book and the praise it had received. When I finally got a chance to read it--thanks, Celia--I realized that this was far more grand an endeavor than I could have anticipated. The scope of the story told in this book's three-hundred-and-some pages is a tad astounding.
I figured Brooks had a few key characters in mind and the novel would then revolve around their lives through the years of the Zombie Wars. Instead, Brooks presented it as a kind of documentary, his protagonist interviewed a plethora of other characters with an assortment of roles in the struggle for survival. The characters run the gamut, from an anti-semitic Kuwaiti recounting his youthful ignorance towards his father and Israel's offer of sanctuary, to a young women from Wisconsin now living in Canada after her family fled north in hopes the cold would ward off the threat of the walking dead, all the way to an Indian soldier's recounting of a revered general's last act in protecting his fellow Indians from a migrating swarm of the undead.
When I first heard about this book, I hadn't really read any "zombie" fiction. By the time I had it in my hands, I felt the publishing world had inundated the marketplace with more zombies than I could ever want to read. Like many of you, I'm over the manufactured fad of zombies from this decade. The novelty is gone, so it's going to take a really good story to catch and hold my interest. Max Brooks succeeded with this novel. I dare say I will never read a zombie novel like this again. It's not so much a truly original story with regards to the subject matter, but the global encompassment, coupled with the avoidance of being violently gratuitous make for a one-of-a-kind book. If this book were adapted into a mini-series, I wouldn't be surprised to hear it was directed by Ken Burns.
Some parts dragged for me, but that may be because they followed some especially intense moments in the story. And if you find yourself skipping over one or two of the interviews in the book, you're not going to get lost in the overall narrative of the tale. There are some allusions to other interviews and moments in certain sections of the book, which add a nice bit of continuity. I think the story could have used a clearer outlook of the world after World War Z, but that's me. There was a kind of "fog of war" to the aftermath in some areas of the final pages, but that is likely on purpose since the focus of the tale is on the war itself and those fighting it.
I'm not big of reading nonfiction, unless it's of a humorous nature, so the kinds of books that this novel plays off of are lost on me. I've watched enough war documentaries over the years, however, to get a sense of what Brooks was trying to achieve. And thankfully, he added a nice touch of humor to some of the stories in the book to keep me from finding the book to be too heavy handed. The book is serious, but it doesn't take itself too seriously. And neither should you if you decide to read it.
Enjoy the ride, and be thankful we'll all die from a combination of bird flu and melting ice caps before the zombies ever get us.
You can find another review for this title at: The Neverending Shelf