“Isn’t the ‘human factor’ what connects us so deeply to our past?” // Review of World War Z by Max Brooks

Title: World War Z: an Oral History of the Zombie War
Author: Max Brooks
Audio book narrator: Max Brooks, various others
Genre: Horror/Dystopia
Date Read: 11/05/2016 – 18/05/2016
Rating: ★★★☆

Review:

worldwarzcoverI’m not usually a fan of zombies. They just don’t really do it for me. But being a librarian/archivist, and knowing that this book was written in oral history format made me interested. I’ve seen reviews recently for Sleeping Giants, which compared it to this book, and that gave me the prompt to finally look this book up. When I saw the audio book was available, I jumped on it, since it seemed like a perfect on to listen to.

After the Zombie War, Max Brooks sets out to tell the stories of the survivors. He had already conducted many of these interviews for use in the report to the United Nations, but these were removed for being too personal, for containing too much of the “human factor”. While the UN wants facts and figures, Max feels that these stories are the best way to preserve the stories of the human race’s resilience for future generations.

Unlike many zombie stories that simply focus on the USA, this one examines the effects of a zombie outbreak across the whole world. It deals with issues that could easily affect a global emergency of any kind, such as lack of government response, public panic, and large companies taking advantage of the situation. It is quite easy to imagine things like phony vaccines being pushed through the FTA, a small nuclear war breaking out between Middle-Eastern states desperate to stop refugees crossing their borders.

I do agree with the reviewers who said that the format of the book means the stakes aren’t very high. The premise is that Max Brooks travelled around after the war, interviewing survivors. There is no need to wonder if these characters survived the situations they were facing; we know they did because they are here telling the story. The fact that we only ever got to hear from each character for one chapter also limited the connection that the reader can form with any of them. However, I do think the format was very clever for the examination of global society that Brooks was clearly aiming for. Even though we only visit these characters once, the story of the war, from outbreak to victory, unfolds in a well-structured way.

The audio book was done very well; Max Brooks played himself/the interviewer and each interviewee had a different narrator, which gave them real character. I did have one qualm with the way the way it was recorded though. Often in audio books, when the text says a character laughs, the narrator actually does just that. Instead of making this recording sound like a real oral history by adding those little things in, it sounded more like the various narrators were reading an oral history transcript, with Max Brooks interjecting with footnotes, or describing the person’s actions. I imagined things were probably inside square brackets in the text, like [laughs] or [is silent for a while]. While it was still good to listen to, I felt it was a bit of a missed opportunity, given how well the format could have translated to audio.

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