Book Review: What ‘World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War’ can teach us about Humans in the Face of Pandemic Threat

Almost every zombie fiction that I read/watched has their version of doom and chaos. A movie told me about the flesh-eating human paranoia caused by a deadly type of brain-mold. That other book depicted how zombies could be ‘cured’ with love. There is this South Korean movie about a devastating zombie attack on a moving train. Will Smith is left alone in a world destroyed by the zombies. And there’s my favorite zombie movie of all time: about rage-virus, a type of virus that makes people so mad, so angry, they eat other people as a result.

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A Different Kind of Zombie Fiction

Most of zombie fictions focus on the zombie: how they look, what they can do, what/who caused them, how to destroy them. The undead is often the villain and we, humans (the not yet dead), are often pictured as victims or heroes.

So when I found a book that positioned zombies not as the evil one, but more of a product of human’s greeds and ill decisions, wrapped in a geopolitical, social and economical issue, brought in a written interview to strengthen the humanity part of the story, I was completely struck.

I just realized that every kind of problem that the world has right now from climate change, racism, inequality, COVID-19, and maybe one day, alien invasion – every single of them is a horror and apocalypse to us, human. Because we would likely to mix our greed and recklessness in it, thus, creating a much bigger issue in the end.

Someone said that we humans always strive for meaning in our life, that’s what differs us from the other simians. In the face of long-term destruction, our first response would be how to maintain our life as usual: our meaning in life. How to avoid our family from dying. How to keep our job from disappearing. How to keep our money intact. How to keep our identity. How to feel safe again.

A Little Story About Me and The Gym

Hell, the first thing that I think about when my country (Indonesia) told its people to stay at home and avoid public areas due to the spreading of COVID-19 is what I should do for me to keep going to the gym amidst this chaos.

I chose quiet morning hours, tried not to touch things so much. But who am I kidding? This is the gym that we’re talking about, people don’t come there wearing hazmats and tip-toeing here and there. Sweats will drop, bodily fluid will be sprayed accidentally (saliva, guys). I know a gym is a dangerous place in this kind of time even before the media told me.

I stopped coming to the gym on the second day of the Indonesian #StayatHome campaign – after I told myself to accept the reality and adapt to the current situation. I don’t want to die because a reason like: I am not responsible enough.

Anyway, that’s me. A mild example of a human that can not let her ambition dissolves that easily.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

I was lucky. I was informed. Someone told me to let go from the start. The humans in the book of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War? They aren’t that lucky, not all of them.

I won’t tell you the details of the story, but let me give you a picture: I am what you called a skeptic, a cynic. I believe in the shadow of a silver lining of a cloud. I see humans as both good and evil and I accept that as part of our life. We need our demons to survive.

But even for me, the level of greed and kindness depicted in this book are astounding and annoying. I don’t know if it’s because I read it amidst the increasing COVID-19 pandemic threats, but it stays in my brain forever.

The movie is great too, it’s fun to watch (Brad Pitt!), but IMO, it failed to deliver the essence of the book. World War Z: An Oral History of Zombie War by Max Brooks is a great book to be read at this time, to remind us what humans are capable of. What we are capable of.

Brad Pitt in the movie World War Z (2013)

We have range of emotions, panic and fear are two of them. It can save us, it could also destroy us. Please choose wisely.

If I cannot avoid the losses caused by this virus, know that I have read the World War Z book by Max Brooks, and I recommended it to be read by you all. Better, find the audiobook version (that one with Martin Scorsese in it – as narrator), and listen to it.

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