Unlike a zombie lurking around a darkened corner, ready to eat the living flesh from your bones, the title of this book is a fairly straight forward rendition of what you can expect to find within World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. The novel works on the premise that the readers immerse themselves within the reality of this fictional world, and that the war between the undead and humans is regarded as historical fact.
What was originally a report written for the United Nations Postwar Commission (but dubbed “too intimate” because it was clouded by “the human factor”) became the basis for the story as the narrator felt that by “excluding the human factor, aren’t we risking the kind of personal detachment from history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? … isn’t the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as ‘the living dead’?”. And so this oral history begins with a series of interviews the narrator conducted with survivors from across the globe, telling their version of events during these plague years. Each interviewee discloses their personal thoughts of when they first heard of a plague named ‘African rabies’, what happened in their own country at the start of the Great Panic and how they were able to survive this catastrophic event that nearly wiped out the entire world population. Some of the interviews are of a personal nature, focusing on an individuals’ harrowing ordeal, while other interviewees represent the voice through which their entire nations’ survival story is told.
Yet World War Z is so much more than an oral account of surviving an alternate apocalyptic history. Though the novel is written in a documentary style, leaving little space for character development (as well as removing the possibility of the reader growing fond of a particular character), each interview provides the reader with an insight to what kind of world existed before the war and provides a glimpse into what it will take to rebuild a civilisation.
Of course the zombies do feature and there is enough blood and guts being strewn all over the place to satisfy any fan of the zombie genre – but if that’s all you take away from this novel, then you are missing the point of this parable. Brooks doesn’t simply provide us with a world in which the possibility of a zombie apocalypse is real. He provides us with a possible scenario throughout which we are able to discern how we as a common species will react towards our own impending doom. Some of the scenarios make you hate the world we live in, while others make you realise that there is hope for humanity yet.