20 June 2012

World War Z by Max Brooks

   These past two days I read World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. I know what you are thinking. You are now completely skeptical of my reading habits, but please hold your judgment till the end.

     First, I’d like to get a few things off my chest. I enjoy scaring myself. I like scary movies (provided it’s actual thrills and not visceral repulsion I am experiencing) and I have a weakness for zombie movies in particular. So, when I first heard about World War Z I thought it would be scary and maybe a little cheesy and knew I would definitely read it. Plus, I had two friends who really enjoyed it and I try to get to things friends recommend. ("Try" being the key word there)

    Also I need to say as always, this review is not necessarily an endorsement unless you know how much you can handle. If you don’t like being scared, don’t read it. If you are sensitive to violence and swearing, don’t read it. There is quite a bit of bad language and I feel like it should be a gimme that a book with “zombie” and “war” in the title will be violent. 

     The actual book is set up as a series of interviews with survivors of the zombie war. The war has been over for a little over a decade now and Mr. Brooks plays the part of a reporter going around the world asking for survivors’ stories. From a Russian soldier to a suburban housewife in Texas, to America’s former chief of staff Grover Carlson (<-- Ho! Ho! Ho! See what he did there?) stories of the zombie war are collected. 

      I was surprised by how non-cheesy this book was. You almost forgot (aside from the actual zombie encounters) the improbability of the world being attacked by the living dead. It was actually more of a backdrop for Mr. Brooks’s social commentary. Now, with the cheap shot at Karl Rove (Grover Carlson) above, you can tell that I didn’t 100% embrace his social commentary, but it was interesting to see how much of our world he was able to capture. There were the noble and the villains. There was a disabled man who risked his life to keep his neighborhood safe at night and there was the scientist who invented a vaccine he knew didn’t work in order to get rich off of people’s fear. There was the suburban housewife who was able to save her child from a zombie with her bare hands, and the general who ordered his men to leave the civilians on their own. 

     World War Z also left the reader questioning how aware we are of what is going on. We know a zombie uprising is absurd, but how many other things do we hear about in our busy lives and turn a blind eye to because they happen somewhere else in the world, or they don’t concern us. I’m not here to guilt trip. I usually hate it when people do this, but it did make me think about how I don’t even know what the news headlines are right now. There could actually be a zombie outbreak and I wouldn’t know. I’m kidding. Kinda. Mainly. 

     Another issue the book discusses is governments not dealing with problems and covering them up instead. Now, I’m not going to get conspiracy theory here. I realize there are things for the sake of national security that it is probably good we don’t know about. But two examples did come to mind. The first is the HIV/AIDS outbreak in Russia. Russia is on track to have more cases of AIDS than most African countries, and their government refuses to acknowledge it. There was some talk from Mr. Putin in 2011 about the need for health reform, but it has so far proved to just be talk. 
     The next not everyone will agree with me, but it’s abortion in the United States. There are about 3,000 babies killed daily in the United States (yes, roughly the same amount of people killed in the attack on 9/11), and our government has decided that not only is that ok, but in some cases it would be wrong to NOTabort. We also use certain euphemisms to smooth over what is actually happening. We now use phrases like “termination” or “just a bundle of cells.” We mythologize it like it’s helpful and empowering to women. And we make this “choice” rather cost efficient too: It is roughly $450 for an abortion in the first trimester, and roughly $9,000 for a natural birth with no complications. Not that these numbers should be a surprise to Christians, but while reading the book I definitely thought of ways we cover up daily what we don’t want to think about. Nah-hah, Mr. Brooks, I bet you didn’t foresee someone using your book to discuss abortion, eh?
     *gets down from soap box*

     Ahem…anyway, I really did end up liking the book a lot more for the commentary and the exceedingly realistic depictions of human-nature, good and bad, than for the actual zombie part. In ways it reminded me of George Orwell’s 1984 (Oh no, Heather! Not that again) (You there! Quiet!). The characters in World War Z  were obviously much less one-dimensional than Julia and Winston, but the theme of the necessity of an alert people is very much the same. Both books have a bleak and futuristic setting born of a President who is more concerned with his election and power than his people (<--every president ever), a government willing to ignore widespread issues, and people who don’t pay attention. (Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves”)


bekahcubed said...

I think I can safely say that I'm NEVER going to read this book (I'm not into scary, or zombies, or sci-fi much)--but I can definitely say that I enjoyed your thoughts.

In regard to cover-ups (that aren't necessarily conspiracy theories), I've spent some time in public health circles in Nebraska and have heard discussions about what to do if an outbreak of a disease (or some sort of biological warfare) occurs and you have a shortage of vaccine (or antidote). Do you lie and say that you have plenty in order to keep people calm? Or is truth more important? (Personally, I think a lot of what health promotion people say is pragmatism is really a cover for idealogic decision making that is often anti-ethical, but that's just my opinion from my limited experience with public health.)

On abortion? I completely agree.

CrossEm said...

All right, all right. I mostly forgive you for reading a Zombie book. (You got extra points for bringing in 1984!)

BerlinerinPoet said...

@bekahcubed: Do not blame you at all, but glad you read and commented anyway!
Interesting thoughts. I am not sure I'm at all qualified to answer that. My first thought is maybe...lie in order to keep people calm. Yikes though! Actually there was a scene in the book where a film-maker starts to make some propaganda films to boost people's spirits. He even went so far as to admit to the "interviewer" that he was lying to people to keep them calm. So, almost the same thing. And it worked actually.

@CrossEm: Hahaha! Yay points! I'm glad you forgave me. At least a little.