Literature Study GuidesWorld War ZTurning The Tide Summary

World War Z | Study Guide

Max Brooks

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World War Z | Turning the Tide | Summary



Interview 1: Robben Island, Cape Town Province, United States of Southern Africa

The investigator interviews a scholar and historian, Xolelwa Azania, who is writing an account of South Africa at war. The investigator wants insight into Paul Redeker, whose controversial plan helped South Africa turn the tide.

The word most people use to describe Redeker's approach to social problems, including the war, is dispassionate. For Redeker emotions got in the way of pragmatic solutions and hindered what the human race could achieve. When the government called him during the Great Panic, he was ready. The Redeker Plan assumed many would die. It gathered military forces into one defendable area to eliminate the infected. Some citizens would be evacuated to the safe zone to work and to bolster belief that the government was at work on the problem. Other citizens would be forced into isolation zones, "human bait" to draw zombies away from the safe zone. These citizens would be supplied and defended as long as possible to prolong the distraction.

When Redeker presented his plan to the government, they reacted with outrage till a quiet voice spoke in favor of it. It was this respected elder statesman who called for Redeker to be brought in. He hugged Redeker and greeted him as South Africa's savior. Azania suggests perhaps Redeker avoided emotion because he was so sensitive he couldn't bear the world's cruelty. This embrace may have touched him deeply. Perhaps, though, he was a "heartless monster" the embrace couldn't reach. Whatever the case, Redeker disappeared after that day, and Azania, who knew Redeker, helped put the plan into effect. Azania pities Redeker, wherever he is, and hopes he's found peace.

As the investigator leaves, he passes through strict security, as he did on arrival. Security is necessary because many people would like to get to Redeker and "send him to hell," the guard says.

Interview 2: Armagh, Ireland

The investigator hadn't planned to interview Philip Adler, but they run into each other in Armagh. Adler's wife, a Bavarian Catholic, is on pilgrimage to Saint Patrick's Cathedral, where the papacy relocated during the war.

Adler was a soldier in Hamburg, Germany, during the war. His unit tried to keep plague victims at bay, redirect refugees to shelter, and rid the harbor of floating dead. One day, while scavenging for weapons and ammo, the unit got an order to retreat to a coded location near the border with Denmark. Usually, when they fell back, civilians knew the target location and went with them; this time, the orders said not to inform civilians. Shocked, Adler contacted General Lang, commander of the Northern Front, who confirmed the order: leave all civilians and refugees behind. As a West German soldier Adler was willing to consult his conscience and question his superiors in a way soldiers from former East Germany, like Lang, were not. But Lang insisted Adler follow the order or suffer "Russian efficiency"—execution of his young soldiers for disobedience. Adler gave the order to withdraw. As the unit retreated, civilians yelled insults and desperate pleas like "You're letting my baby die!" A Rapid Response Stabilization Unit—marked as expendable—covers the retreat.

Lang later committed suicide after issuing final orders for the Prochnow Plan (Germany's version of the Redeker Plan) and writing a letter to his family. Adler hated him all the more as a coward willing to launch the desperate plan, which Adler now understands was necessary, but unwilling to live with the burden of responsibility.

Interview 3: Yevchenko Veterans' Sanatorium, Odessa, Ukraine

The investigator meets Bohdan Taras Kondratiuk in a bare-bones nursing facility. Kondratiuk has a respiratory disease, but no medicine or effective care is available.

Kondratiuk's unit had survived chaotic fighting in four battles, including the nightmare in Zhitomir. Exhausted, they fell back till they reached Kiev, supposedly a well-supplied safe zone. But Kiev was being evacuated by the time the unit arrived; the government had fled to Crimea. Kondratiuk's unit supervised the Patona Bridge escape route. Evacuees on foot streamed across the bridge, and because promised barriers to keep vehicles off the bridge never materialized, the bridge was crammed even before a truck overturned. Civilian and military order collapsed, and Kondratiuk's unit had no way to inspect evacuees for infection. Kondratiuk called by radio for assistance and was told to stand firm till it arrived. Then he spotted four military jets streaking toward the bridge, apparently to destroy it. He screamed for everyone to get off the bridge. Evacuees jumped into the river, ran, or cowered. Kondratiuk saw parachutes fall from the jets to deploy RVS, a chemical weapon, and ordered his soldiers into their antiquated tank. He watched through the tank's periscope as fine droplets rained down on evacuees, crippling their nervous systems. Kondratiuk was stunned. RVS didn't affect zombies—the disaster at Zhitomir proved that. But as corpses of the infected quickly reanimated and staggered toward the tanks, Kondratiuk understood: the RVS killed the uninfected, exposing those who'd tried to hide their bite wounds. He ordered his gunner to destroy the zombies as jets hit other bridges and the city's center. Then the unit headed southwest, crushing bodies that "popped" as the tanks ran over them. Kondratiuk looked back to glimpse Kiev's great World War II statue, the Motherland, her sword held high.

Interview 4: Sand Lakes Provincial Wilderness Park, Manitoba, Canada

Jesika Hendricks volunteers with Canada's Wilderness Restoration Project, which aims to destroy frozen zombies and remove the detritus of evacuation and war. The WRP claims it's making progress, but many years of work remain.

Hendricks was a child in Waukesha, Wisconsin, when the Great Panic began. The U.S. government encouraged people to flee north rather than follow the military and the retreating government west of the Rockies. So many evacuees could never be fed, supplied, and defended: they were diverted instead. Hendricks understands this decision in retrospect but still seethes over how the government withheld vital information on how to survive. The media, too, was useless, clogging the news cycle with sensational stories rather than providing useful information. The message was always "Go north. Go north. Go north." The cold would freeze the zombies in the north while people waited out the crisis.

Most people took useless things—gaming systems rather than guns, DVD players rather than food and medicine. Hendricks's family packed warm clothes and canned food, which they used up at a startling rate. Evacuees streamed north, many stopping wherever they ran out of gas. Others walked on. Mr. Hendricks passed them quickly, without making eye contact. The family did pick up one woman, who cried gratefully, but she was hiding a bite wound, so they abandoned her and drove on. Jesika closed her eyes when the family evaded plague victims. Finally the family reached a Canadian lake where they set up camp with others. A little community developed; people fished and cooked over campfires. But more waves of evacuees arrived, and soon the woods were stripped bare of firewood and the lake was fished out. Yet people insisted help would arrive. As winter came, evacuees got sick, hungry, and desperate. They turned on each other, uniting only when a zombie or two showed up. When the lake froze over in October, some people started walking south, since all the gas had been used for cooking and heating. Mr. Hendricks thought they were nuts.

By Thanksgiving Jesika, who had been overweight, was starving to death. Her parents argued about whether they should do "it"—something others were doing. "It" wasn't such a bad thing to do, her mother insisted, but her father hated the idea of "it." They came to blows, but then Mr. Hendricks left with their radio and returned with hot stew, which Mrs. Hendricks, crying, fed Jesika. Winter was brutal by December, and the camp went quiet, but there was always stew to eat. Hendricks pauses in her story to examine a bone, a child's femur scraped clean and cracked for the marrow. Something like 11 million people died during the first Gray Winter, she says, when the skies clouded over, in part with human ashes. Those who survived had to contend, by July, with waves of thawing zombies.

Interview 5: Udaipur Lake Palace, Lake Pichola, Rajasthan, India

Civil engineer Sardar Khan manages a hotel that was once a maharaja's fantastic home and served during the war as an island shelter for several hundred people till they died of cholera.

Khan was a young lance corporal during the evacuation of Chandigarh, India, and the surrounding areas. People fled into the Himalayas, and monkeys went with them, leaping nimbly off cars and roofs and even people's heads. They chattered and screamed as they sought high places, instinctively grasping the zombie threat. Thousands swarmed the narrow path into the mountains. People and vehicles fell over the steep edge to their deaths, but no one paid attention. Khan was supposed to be building roads, but a Sergeant Mukherjee commandeered him to drive a jeep back down to the pass. As Khan steered through the panicked crowd, Mukherjee adjusted a radio controller and reported the charges were set. Khan had heard passes into the mountain were to be destroyed to block the zombies. The pass should have been clear of evacuees by now, but nothing went as planned, to Mukherjee's dismay. He got the order to detonate but yelled back that he'd wait till he saw the zombies. Then General Raj-Singh, a national hero, the Tiger of Delhi, suddenly appeared. (Though people often doubt this detail, Khan swears to it.) He'd been forced to evacuate but now was in the fray again. He explained if they didn't blow the pass now, a bomber would soon arrive to carry out "Shiva's Wrath"—that is, to detonate a thermonuclear explosion that would level the mountainside, creating a bridge into the safe zone for millions of zombies sweeping toward it. Raj-Singh took the detonator, and the terrible burden of responsibility, from Mukherjee, and hit the firing buttons. Nothing happened. The general told the men to flee, then ran into the crowd to detonate the charges by hand. Mukherjee and Khan followed. Khan saw Mukherjee struggle with a man who wanted his rifle; both fell from the pass. From atop a small bus, Khan tried but failed to see the general, but he did see waves of zombies attacking evacuees. He fell and was in danger of being trampled. Crawling under the bus, he suddenly felt the earth rise beneath him as the pass exploded. When he regained consciousness, a chasm separated him from the dead. They shuffled forward, row after row, moaning and falling "like an undead waterfall" to the valley below. Reports from other passes came in; they, too, had been secured. A monkey sat on the bus, as if thinking, "We're finally safe!" Then it peed on Khan's face.


Chapter 4 highlights the theme of the will to survive. The interviews cover the war's turning point, but what it took to turn the tide against the zombies was extremely wrenching and required sacrifice at many levels and of many kinds.

Each interview describes sacrifices made at a personal, community, and national level. Many people sacrifice their ideals, for example. Jesika Hendricks' parents were teachers with progressive beliefs; they rarely argued. But their drive to keep their daughter alive leads to fights, with words and fists, and finally to cannibalism. The crisis steals their core beliefs from them in a grossly ironic manner: to survive, they engage in exactly the activity that makes the zombies so horrifying. They prey on and eat other humans.

This family sacrifice is played out in larger groups as well. The Redeker Plan, the Prochnow Plan, the decisions to abandon or kill refugees and civilians in India and Kiev—all are variations on the same idea. Some, perhaps many, must die so others, fewer in number, can live to fight on. Some interviewees, like Kondratiuk, comment on wasted opportunities—a monastery in Kiev, he notes, could easily have become a strategic base. Khan and others admire leaders like General Raj-Singh, who made and lived with terrible decisions that cost lives. Adler, on the other hand, calls General Lang a "fucking coward" because through suicide he escapes the burden of his orders. Both generals had to sacrifice the people they had sworn to defend; but only one could bear the responsibility. And mentally disciplined, "dispassionate" Paul Redeker loses his identity to help turn the tide. The final event reported in this section involves a monkey peeing on a survivor's face—an absurd and tragicomic image. Humanity has been terribly diminished by the costs of survival.

In The Zombie Survival Guide the investigator tells readers they must make a decision: Knowledge is not enough, weapons are not enough—only "the will to live," no matter what sacrifices are required, matters "when the dead begin to rise."

A note on Brooks's style: Throughout World War Z Brooks embeds revealing historical details to reinforce the work's realism and anchor it to actual history and geography. For example Xolelwa Azania speaks of an elder statesman, the "nation's father," who embraces Redeker. Brooks doesn't give the statesman's name, but he includes clues: his given name is Rolihlahla (idiomatically, "troublemaker"), and he is the founder of South Africa's democracy. Brooks's doesn't give his name—Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela—but instead allows readers to provide the context and name the statesman. Not only does this technique draw readers into the story, as people in the know, but it deepens the tragic irony of the scene. Redeker, a white Afrikaner of the former ruling class, is welcomed and embraced by a black South African whom Plan Orange would likely have considered expendable. Yet it's the fictional version of Mandela who sees and accepts the terrible sacrifice required to save the nation.

Other details—the names and designations of planes, the geographical details of evacuation routes, and the references to human achievements such as Kiev's Patona Bridge—contribute to the book's historical realism as well.

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