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World War Z | Study Guide

Max Brooks

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World War Z | Around the World, and Above | Summary



Interview 1: Province of Bohemia, the European Union

The investigator meets David Allen Forbes as the Englishman sketches Kost, a fortified castle that seems to grow out of the rock, for his latest book, Castles of the Zombie War. Forbes begins his interview by nervously justifying his books' lack of attention to the United States, which is too young a nation to have castles.

Castles—not pretty palaces that are merely showcases of wealth—didn't play a huge role in the Zombie War, but Forbes appreciates their contribution because a castle saved his life. Some castle defenses failed: France's Versailles was completely destroyed, and the besieged people in Holland's Muiderslot succumbed slowly to pneumonia. Other castles burned or blew up because people didn't know how to handle explosives. But other groups held out in castles for years, foraging for supplies during winter. A few served as starting points for campaigns that took back entire regions.

Forbes spent much of the war at Britain's Windsor, a castle that had undergone tactical improvements in response to terrorists' threats. It had its own well, years of rations, and structural upgrades. Natural gas and crude oil deposits below provided fuel for heat and for fire to kill Zed Heads, as Forbes calls zombies. When the ammo ran out, the castle's collection of real medieval weapons proved useful. The queen, whom Forbes admired greatly, stayed at Windsor rather than fleeing to Ireland or the Isle of Man with her family. In every way she was her father's daughter. He refused to leave London during World War II but stayed, with the queen's mother, to share the risks of war with their people. This, Forbes says, is the "godlike burden" true monarchs bear as they represent their nations and set an example of sacrifice and service.

Interview 2: Ulithi Atoll, Federated States of Micronesia

Among the many ships that sheltered at Ulithi Atoll during war was the USN Ural, which served as the first broadcast hub for Radio Free Earth and is now a museum. Barati Palshigar has returned to the Ural to participate in a documentary about the program.

Radio Free Earth formed on the model of South Africa's Radio Ubunye (Zulu for unity). The international program's goal was to replace deadly ignorance and superstition with the weapons of "cold, hard facts." The first broadcasts aired long before the Honolulu conference. Palshigar had been an interpreter before the war; now she and Mister Verma translated broadcasts for the whole Indian Subcontinent. They worked 18 and 20 hours a day to write and record survival information and to debunk zombie myths. Most frustrating to Palshigar was people's desire to "anthropomorphize the walking dead": so strong was the desire to see the enemy as still human, some people believed zombies remembered their former lives, could learn and use tools, or could be tamed like pets. Superstitions and religious teachings could also be dangerous.

The hardest task fell to the Information Reception officers, who logged every bit of incoming information for sorting and translating. Mingled with data about outbreaks, supplies, and military movements were the anguished voices of the besieged and dying. IR officers had to listen, but they couldn't respond because air time was prioritized to get solid, life-saving information out. Their suicide rate was high, and no one is now alive. One Belgium IR officer told Palshigar the voices were always with him, "never ceasing their call to join them."

Interview 3: The Demilitarized Zone: South Korea

Hyungchol Choi is deputy director of Korea's intelligence agency. The investigator talks with him as they look at the rusted remains of North Korea's fortifications in the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone, a highly militarized strip of land between North and South Korea).

North Korea was more prepared, theoretically, than any nation to withstand the zombie onslaught. Bordered by oceans, rivers, and the DMZ, North Korea also had a maze of reinforced, supplied tunnels under its mountains, built to shelter people from bombing. Many of its population had military training, and all were accustomed to hardship and obedience. In South Korea people were more individualistic, more tied to international trading partners, and less quick to adapt to the plague's threats. Choi and others guarding the DMZ began to notice fewer soldiers posted on the North's side about the time the North cut diplomatic ties. Soon, civilian and military communications dropped off, and satellites photos revealed fewer people in the fields and cities. One day, the North Koreans had all vanished. The South was mystified but occupied with handling its own infestation and deploying the Chang Doctrine, a version of Paul Redeker's plan.

Now, after the war, Choi has asked for resources to investigate North Korea, but resources are needed for rebuilding and repatriation of refugees. Also, any team venturing into North Korea would face mines and booby traps. But Choi and others want to know who, or what, is in North Korea's tunnels. Perhaps the nation is still there, grateful to the Great Leader for every breath of air. Perhaps 23 million "emaciated automatons" shuffle in darkness under the mountains, waiting to attack.

Interview 4: Kyoto, Japan

The investigator compares a photo of Kondo Tatsumi as a sickly teen with the clear-eyed, muscular man before him as they begin their interview.

Before the war Tatsumi was an otaku, a cultural outsider and social loner obsessed with life in cyberspace. Japanese education developed in him a hunger for facts, and he spent his days locked in his room, finding, assembling, and posting facts. Even after outbreaks began, Tatsumi was safe in his world, now researching the undead, hacking into secure government files for details. He was a cyber-sensei, a guru with followers, especially after he hacked Doctor Komatsu Yukio's files and published his evacuation plans. He realized that though he and other otaku could gather facts but not analyze them. Komatsu saw what they couldn't—that Japan, a demilitarized country, had to be evacuated. Otaku raced to research resettlement locations, but it never crossed Tatsumi's mind that siafu, as Japan called the zombies, threatened him personally.

Tatsumi's parents rarely saw their son; they brought food to his door and left. One day, however, his breakfast tray didn't arrive. Tatsumi grabbed ramen from the kitchen and hurried back to the computer. He began to notice communication gaps—people failing to reply to emails, servers down. The last post he received reported siafu streaming out of a hospital; then silence fell. He tried to call his parents, but his cell had no reception. He never found out what happened to them. Tatsumi had been insulated against reality. Now he looked out the window and saw the city, Kokura, burning and overrun by zombies. People leapt to their deaths, and zombies tore apart their bodies. He heard his neighbors' cries and pleas and saw the hinges on his apartment's door began to give way. For the first time he applied some facts he'd gathered, tying sheets together to lower himself to the next floor's balcony. His lack of physical activity, the hot winds generated by fires, and the constant threat of zombies made the three-day climb down 19 floors perilous. Using scavenged sheets and other supplies from apartments on his way down, Tatsumi reached the street and slipped through the chaos

Interview 5: Kyoto, Japan

The investigator drinks tea with sensei Tomonaga Ijiro, founder of Japan's Shield Society. Kondo Tatsumi serves the tea as Ijiro tells his story.

Ijiro was a teenager who lost his sight on August 9, 1945, when he watched the atomic explosion in Nagasaki from an air-raid station on a nearby mountain. He became one of the hibakusha, "survivors of the bomb," symbols of national heroism and yet also unclean outcasts. And Ijiro, as a blind man, was also a burden who wasn't allowed to contribute to Japan's rebuilding after the war. After unsuccessful suicide attempts and months of begging, he finally found work as a gardener at a repatriation center on the island of Hokkaido. His boss, an Ainu man named Ota Hideki, was even lower in social rank and became Ijiro's surrogate father, having lost his own son in the war. After Ota-san's death Ijiro stayed on as gardener at what was now a luxury hotel. As he worked, he overheard guests discussing early outbreaks. Ijiro's sensitivity to the quirks of spoken language alerted him to the hotel manager's real feelings when he assured employees that stories of outbreaks were just rumors. To Ijiro the manager's anxiety "shrieked louder than air-raid sirens," so Ijiro hitchhiked and walked to the remote Hidakka Mountains. He and Ota-san had often traveled to this national park to harvest vegetables, so Ijiro knew it well. With food, fresh water, and even hot springs to bathe in, he lived fairly well while waiting to die. He could hear distant planes and helicopters but had no idea whether Japan was in crisis.

One day he woke to find a huge bear near him and concluded the kami, spirits that inhabit all places, had sent the bear to kill him for disturbing the purity of the forest. When the bear whimpered in fear and fled, Ijiro heard the moans of an approaching zombie. He crushed its head and his shame fell away. The kami had sent the bear to warn him, so he must have a purpose. Over months, Ijiro memorized the mountain—every place safe to rest, every threat. He became adept at dispatching the "courteous" zombies who wandered into the forest, making noise to tell him when to strike. As their numbers grew, so did his understanding of how to destroy them.

During his second winter in the mountains, while resting in a tree, he heard human footsteps. He leaped from the tree, pushing the person to the ground in case he was a threat. Instead, he found a skinny teen trying to get to Nemuro, a Hokaiddo port from which Japanese were evacuating to Kamchatka. The teen was, of course, Tatsumi, who explained the crisis in Japan to Ijiro. Ijiro decided the kami had chosen him to be Japan's gardener, to wipe out the plague's blight and restore the land for the day the Japanese could return home. Tatsumi commented on the insanity of two men—one old and blind, the other weak and untrained—against millions of zombies, but Ijiro assured him the siafu "would be facing the gods."

Interview 6: Cienfuegos, Cuba

The investigator meets Seryosha Garcia Alvarez in his 69th-floor office with its stunning views. They look out over the thriving city as photovoltaic windows shimmer in the sunset.

Alvarez claims his nation won the war. Before the war the U.S. blockade strangled trade and isolated the nation, playing into Fidel Castro's anti-capitalist narrative. Early outbreaks were small and quickly contained in a militarized state with many talented doctors; Cuba understood the plague's viral nature long before other nations did. When people began arriving, in a historical irony, by boat to seek refuge, Cuba was ready for them, unlike Iceland, which was quickly overrun by infected refugees and is still a hot zone. Some refugees in Cuba and nearby islands assumed they'd become latifundista, landowners served by indigenous peoples, because of their wealth and influence in their home country (mainly the U.S.), but armed populations on the islands quickly put an end to this fantasy. Cuba was able to insist their guests live by Cuba's rules. Eventually nearly five million U.S. citizens were housed in resettlement centers not much better than prisons. They worked the fields, regardless of their status back home, under threat of being thrown to the ghouls if they complained. But the camps required resources Cuba couldn't spare, so about ten percent of the Yankees, as Alvarez calls the refugees, were released to work for low pay at jobs Cubans no longer wanted and to earn points to free other refugees. In six months the camps were emptied and the U.S. refugees integrated into Cuban society's lower ranks. By the war's end Nortecubanos had worked their way into all levels of society. They brought a new kind of infection that broke down Cuba's communist economy, one private business and economic reform at a time. When the international counterattack began, Castro saw the financial possibilities and allowed Cuba to become the "Arsenal of Victory," the war's great manufacturing hub. Money poured in, the Nortecubanos taught the Cubans how to make it work for everyone, and Castro took the credit, eventually leaving power as a national hero. The U.S. and Cuba saved each other, Alvarez says.

Interview 7: Patriot's Memorial, the Forbidden City, Beijing, China

Admiral Xu Zhicai agrees to an interview to tell his side of the story, defensively asserting his crew's loyalty, which the investigator doesn't question.

Before the war Xu served under Captain Chen on the Admiral Zheng He, one of three Type 94 submarines. China's government wouldn't even debate a version of the Redeker plan and refused to admit the possibility of defeat. Generals Xu describes as "sick, twisted old criminals" hiding in bunkers sent waves of young soldiers to die and join the zombie ranks; the living Chinese might soon be "fatally outnumbered" by the dead. So Captain Chen decided to save a remnant of China aboard the sub. Quietly, the crew gathered supplies and summoned their families to the port at Qingdao, supposedly for a casting-off ceremony. Travel was hard, so not all made it, but those that did were smuggled aboard, still unaware of the plan. They cast off on schedule, to avoid suspicion, knowing they'd left some family members behind as Qingdao burned. The crew hid in the ocean for months, maintaining battle readiness and noise discipline but cut off from news about the crisis.

After more than three months submerged, sonar officers began reporting many ships, even in the remote part of the ocean where the sub was. Chen risked moving to periscope depth, where the crew discovered people had gone to sea in anything that would float, from aircraft carriers to scows, some converted to sailing ships, others drifting without fuel. Smaller boats were lashed together in great rafts, floating with the currents. In one case people had made a raft of Styrofoam-packed garbage bags. To help these desperate people would have risked exposure and infection, since some ships were infested.

Now closer to the surface the crew monitored news reports from a dying world. Meanwhile, supplies of food and medicine were running low. The civilians suggested planting a garden for food and medicinal herbs, so the crew began to search for a safe place to get soil. But even on remote coastlines, zombies stumbled toward the water at the sound of the sub, and many islands were infested, too. They finally found refuge at the South Pacific island of Manihi, one of an archipelago becoming a new nation of refugees, the Pacific Continent. The crew traded electricity generated by the sub's nuclear power plant. People were so thrilled to have electricity the crew could trade for anything it wanted. Crewmen also participated in perimeter sweeps, destroying zombies emerging from the ocean. But this arrangement, and the community they enjoyed in Manihi, didn't last.

One night, Xu and Commander Song heard a report of a terrible natural disaster in China. As Xu stayed by the radio for more details, he saw the sea glowing. Behind him, the Madrid Spirit, a natural gas carrier, exploded in a massive fireball, incinerating many people. Song reported seeing a missile's streak in the water just as the Admiral Zheng He's foghorn sounded. Every second the sub remained put more civilians in danger, since it was the likely target. Chen ordered battle stations as the sub dived and sonar confirmed the sound of a Type 95 sub belonging either to Russia or China. Chen had the sub settle on the ocean floor, where it was quickly swarmed by zombies, biting and clawing at the metal. One got stuck in a reactor intake, causing the reactor's temperature to rise, so Chen ordered the sub to move. The Type 95 pursued the sound. The subs fired at each other, and the crew heard the terrible sound of the 95's compartments collapsing as they breached. Captain Chen was grim; his beloved son, Chen Zhi Xiao, commanded a Type 95, perhaps the one they'd just destroyed. The next day, Chen's hair had gone white, and he seemed to have suddenly aged.

Chen ordered the sub to the Arctic and cut communications. His decision to take the sub had already cost many lives. Morale was low without Chen's spirited leadership. When the signal of another Type 95 sub was detected, the crew went to battle stations, but just before Chen gave the order to fire, the sub relayed a message of peace. It was Chen Zhi Xiao's sub. He explained the Three Gorges Dam disaster sparked a civil war. The sub destroyed in Manihi was allied with the loyalists, but Chen's Type 95 supported the rebels. He had come to escort his father's crew home to join the battle against the Communist leaders, holed up in a fortified, NORAD-style bunker. Because Captain Chen had taken the sub away from China it was still battle-ready; most of the fleet and air force were lost. Captain Chen took the terrible responsibility of ordering the destruction, by nuclear warhead, of his country's government. With the Politburo destroyed, most loyalists joined the rebels to fight the zombies.

Interview 8: Sydney, Australia

Terry Knox, formerly commander of the International Space Station, has a suite in Clearwater Memorial Hospital, excellent care, and access to "almost unobtainable medications"—rewards for his service. He's weak and withered but still spirited.

Knox and his crew weren't stranded on the ISS when the conflict broke out. He ordered scientists and nonessential personal into the X-38 reentry craft and gave the others a choice to stay or go. Those who stayed did so willingly because not only was the ISS irreplaceable, but only from it could the satellite network be maintained. Knox and his crew kept the most vital satellites running to support communications. They had recycled water, food for 27 months (if they ate the lab animals), and tanked oxygen. To get to satellites in need of maintenance and to the orbital refueling station, they modified a supply pod with manual controls. The ISS was loaded with useful technology, and they used it all. Otherwise, they monitored news and looked down at Earth.

Some of the satellites' feeds were so powerful the crew could see moments of individual agony and "read the lips of victims crying out for mercy." They witnessed the battle at Yonkers, miles-wide masses of zombies on American plains where buffalo once roamed, and the evacuation of Japan. The crew witnessed the ecological destruction, both natural and manmade, as when the Saudis set the oil fields on fire. They watched the "gray-brown shroud" of nuclear autumn wrap the Earth and switched to thermal imaging and radar. They witnessed the catastrophic but predictable collapse of the Three Gorges Dam in this way but could imagine the destruction of the flood all too well. Several weeks later, the crew received a signal from China's space station, Yang Liwei, a "slapdash" collection of modules. The ISS had been pinging the station for months but had heard only a recorded message to stay away. Knox took the modified pod to investigate. Someone had tried to launch an escape pod while it was still attached to the hatch, causing the station to depressurize. Only two men had been on board, with no discernible purpose but to show China could put men in space. One had apparently turned on the other and shot him through the faceplate of his spacesuit, launching himself into space. Knox guessed Zhai, the murdered astronaut, had been ordered to detonate the explosives wired into the station, scorched-earth style, and the other astronaut had stopped him. The ISS crew scavenged the Yang Liwei successfully, extending their mission by three years. They strapped Zhai's body to his bunk and watched as the station sank and burned up in Earth's atmosphere.

Knox and his crew were finally relieved by a new spacecraft, originally designed for space tourists. Knox's crewmates have already died, and radiation exposure is quickly killing him, but none of them regrets their decision to stay.

Interview 9: Ancud, Isla Grande de Chiloe, Chile

Ernesto Olguin, a merchant's ship master, spends most of his time at sea, away from Ancud, temporary home to Chile's government and now the nation's cultural heart.

Olguin was present as a Chilean naval attaché at what historians call the Honolulu Conference but he calls the Saratoga Conference, since he never got off the Saratoga to see anything else. The USS Saratoga served as a cramped, stuffy UN headquarters during the war. Also, the meeting was more ambush than conference. People arrived to exchange information and tactics and were shocked when the U.S. ambassador announced it was time to take back infested territories. The U.S. was about to launch a campaign to eradicate zombies in the lower 48. The room exploded in dissent. Many people wanted to stay in the safe zones and let the zombies rot, which some had begun to do. Others argued many zombies showed no signs of rotting, and even one could start a new wave of infection. It could take centuries before the infestation rotted away. Then the debate got "ugly" as a representative of a less economically advantaged country in the global south accused northern nations of hogging the wealth and conserving their power. Perhaps the plague was justice for the underprivileged southern nations. Olguin thought this argument ludicrous, since China and India were economic powerhouses. The man wanted revenge for the past at a time when humanity was facing future annihilation. Through the chaos the U.S. president began to talk about "the human spirit," so crushed by the zombie onslaught, and about redeeming losses and leaving a legacy of action for the world's children. He argued people must take Earth back to prove to themselves they could. Typical hero talk, Olguin thought, the kind Americans specialize in—but people fell silent, and the president called for time to think and a vote later in the day.

Olguin and two other attachés sat on the flight deck during the vote, trying to avoid the subject of the war but coming right back to it as they talked of family vineyards now destroyed. The French attaché brought out a bottle of Chateau Latour, 1964, perhaps the last on Earth, "a perfect symbol of a world we might never see again" and the only personal possession he'd carried through the evacuation. Now, he felt, was a good time to drink it, so they did—from plastic mugs. The vote passed with 24 in favor; 31 countries abstained and 17 voted no; these countries later paid for their decision. Chile voted yes.


Destruction is a common theme in these interviews, as is the hope of renewal. Every interviewee relates incidents of destruction, from the burning cities of Qingdao and Kokura and the pollution of Earth's atmosphere to more localized losses (a castle blown up) and tragically personal ones (a Japanese woman with slit wrists in her bathtub, having avoided a worse fate the only way she knew how). In these interviews details flood readers in a sea of despair. Animals don't escape it: a huge bear whimpers like a scared dog as it flees the predator; zombies tear up fields in England to consume hundreds of rabbits. Nature doesn't escape it, as ecological disasters pile up to pollute land and ocean. And people certainly don't escape. Xu's description of the ad hoc flotilla provides a convincing example of desperation. People put out to sea on anything that would float. Now many drift aimlessly, carried by currents, unable to set a course. They have few or no supplies; in their panic they didn't think ahead. They've succeeded only in "prolonging the inevitable."

In these interviews readers can see, too, that zombies represent to some people what Xu calls the "monsters ... we carry in our hearts." Human weaknesses compound the crisis itself. Tatsumi's choice, as a teenager, to live in a darkened room lit by a monitor's glow leaves him dangerously weak; his pride in his online following is laughably pointless. He serves nothing greater than his own hunger for facts and admiration. Ijiro let self-hatred eat at him for years, and Olguin says of the delegates on the Saratoga, "we couldn't take our hands from around our throats" to focus on the real enemy. Worse are those who exploit the crisis to harm others. Barati Palshigar mentions a woman who spread the lie that sex with a virgin cured the plague, leading to countless rapes of women and girls. "Everyone was ashamed" of something their nation allowed to happen, she says. The zombies and the crisis they precipitate expose what Palshigar's colleague names "the evils of our collective soul."

But people's adaptability shines in these interviews, too, if not balancing destruction with the hope of renewal, at least holding out the possibility. Tatsumi finds his courage and makes his way to Ijiro, who accepts his calling as Japan's gardener. The older generation of South Koreans stands up to lead their grandchildren through the crisis, drawing strength from their wartime experiences. And in a charming detail Forbes describes people in Britain "traipsing about with a mace or halberd or double-bladed ax" like medieval knights. He himself carries a Scottish sword and is handy with a claymore. Survivors find a way to get by.

A note on Brooks's style: By the time readers reach this set of interviews, they become aware of two kinds of storytelling Brooks uses—interwoven stories and unfinished stories. As the zombie crisis drags on, people around the world hear about what's happened elsewhere and refer to it, adding their own opinions. For example the crew of the Admiral Zheng He hears rumors of a natural disaster but only much later learns about the Three Gorges Dam disaster; they then respond by attacking their corrupt leaders. But only from Terry Knox, who watches the disaster from the ISS through thermal sensors, do readers get details about how China's leaders responded publicly. China's president called the dam's failure an "unavoidable accident" and an "unforeseen tragedy," though it was well known the dam was flawed and built on a fault line. Then the government switched stories and lied that troops had valiantly attempted to protect the dam. Countless people died in the flood, so no one can report otherwise—except for Knox, who knows for certain the soldiers were not present. By interweaving stories Brooks provides perspectives that, when pieced together, reveal the greater story. He even interweaves The Zombie Survival Guide, also written in the investigator's persona, into Palshigar's interview. She speaks, in a comic touch, of the "civilian survival guide" that's been published but, since an American wrote it, places too much emphasis on "SUVs and personal firearms" and ignores cultural differences.

Unfinished stories, too, dot the book. Most are brief and fleeting—they represent unanswered questions the interviewees must carry. Readers never learn, for example, whether Terry Knox ever found out his parents' fate or what actually happened on the Yang Lewei. Others are major headlines, such as the fate of North Korea's entire population. These loose threads contribute to the work's verisimilitude. As in real life, histories are incomplete, and there's still research to be done.

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