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Decent read blemished by crude stereotyping and lack of narrative
on 3 February 2010
Max "son of Mel" Brooks's first fiction novel proper, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, is inspired both by Studs Terkel oral history of World War II and of course, the classic films of George A Romero (Night of the Living Dead et al).
The book casts a global eye over the spread of the "infected", from patient zero in China, to mass migrations in Central and North America, to the evacuation wholesale of Japan, amongst other places. This story is told not via a conventional narrative but through a long sequence of interconnected interviews, which tend to cross-reference back on each other, thus allowing a sense of progression from the initial contact with the living dead through to their domination and then the human fight back.
The downside of this approach is that no characters are allowed any room to develop, so there is a lack of attachment to anybody in particular; most stories are given only a few short pages which is unfortunate, as some of the reminiscences are quite gripping, such as the young American woman who moves north into the frozen wastes with her family, who, it is suggested, end up resorting to cannibalism. Such an interesting, dramatic narrative is quickly aborted to make way for others far less engrossing.
Brooks has undertaken much research to make this plague of zombies seem as realistic as possible but unfortunately, the book is marred by crude national stereotypes, such as the Englishman who practically bursts into tears about his love for the Royal family, the blind Japanese swordsman (ok, so he uses a spade), or most offensively, the raving Arab, spouting "Drive the Zionists into the sea!" nonsense. Typically, of course, the Americans save the day. Remember that scene two thirds of the way through the film Independence Day, when the US President announces his plan to defeat the aliens and people all over the world punch the air and whoop with joy? Yes, you pretty much get that scene here, though somewhat more muted.
All in, though, World War Z is an entertaining little pot-boiler that will surely find its market - it is already being adapted in to a Hollywood film - the Lord of the Rings of zombie movies, apparently - though the praise lavished on this book (especially by high profile fans like Simon "Shaun of the Dead" Pegg) does seem rather excessive for what it actually is.