Brooks’ first novel “The Zombie Survival Guide” became an instant cult classic. Anyone with an interest in the macabre found it in their hands at some point. The book was refreshing as it broke from the typical zombie story narrative: there is a group of people (often a couple), strange things start happening, they fight zombies, they discover how zombies came to be, they die or the outbreak is stopped. “The Zombie Survival Guide” instead focused on how life to would have to adapt on a day-to-day basis if humans were to survive a long term zombie outbreak. It was refreshing to see an author take on a well-established trope in a new way.
His second novel “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War” furthers the theme of expanding the possibilities of the zombie genre by taking it a totally new direction. The zombie threat has already, for the most part, been eliminated at the start of the book. The end of the “war” against the undead ended a decade before the narrator begins his interviews. The narrator works for the government and amassed these stories while creating a postwar report. He travels around the world from China to Antarctica to Burlington, Vermont seeking the complete story from first outbreak to the struggle to rebuild. Participants in his interviews range from feral children to top government officials and everywhere in between.
It is obvious that Brooks has done a lot of research. His footnotes reveal he has done research on subjects as diverse as Israeli tanks, dams in Lesotho, and the famines in North Korea. This adds to the plausibility of Brooks’ story. His hypotheses of what went down are very interesting. I especially enjoyed the rise of a ultra-religious Russian super -state.
The book is often very emotional, as people tell story after story of how their world fell apart. One story in particular stood out for me. It is told by a young man originally from South Africa. It takes place during the “Great Panic” when refugee camps were not set up and the disease was spreading uncontrollably:
“I ran through a shanty where a woman was hiding in a corner. Her two children were huddled against her, crying. ‘Come with me!’ I said. ‘Please, come, we have to go!’ I held out my hands, moved closer to her. She pulled her children back, brandishing a sharpened screwdriver. Her eyes were wide, scared… I left her there. I didn’t know what else to do. She is still in my memory, when I sleep or maybe close my eyes sometimes. Sometimes she’s my mother, and the crying children are my sisters.”
It can get a bit tedious at points, but moments like the one above make the read worth it. Brooks’ novel is more than just a fantasy romp, it uses the concept of a “zombie apocalypse” to explore real social issues and how humans deal with tragedy.