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World War Z | Warnings | Summary

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Summary

Interview 1: Greater Chongqing, the United Federation of China

As the title of this section suggests, the seven interviews in Chapter 1 cover the early days and weeks of the crisis. The first interviewee, Dr. Kwang Jingshu, is a veteran of the Maoist revolution; the investigator meets him in China, where he's still practicing medicine.

Sometime shortly after the Three Gorges Dam became partially operational in 2003, Dr. Kwang was called to New Dachang to treat a patient. He arrived to find seven people suffering from fever, chills, pain, and oddly clean bites. A villager explained they were bitten while restraining a "cursed" boy. Now locked in an abandoned house, the boy struggled against plastic twine binding his feet and hands, cutting into his flesh but causing no bleeding. Though gagged, he growled and snapped at the doctor. A terrified villager holding the boy down for examination broke the boy's arm, yet the boy didn't seem to notice, and where he should have bled, he oozed thick brown matter. The doctor thought he'd discovered some new disease's Patient Zero.

A grieving woman explained her husband and the boy, her son, had been illegally diving to retrieve items from the drowned villages near Three Gorges Dam. The child returned with a bite mark, but the father was never found. Dr. Kwang called a trusted colleague at an Institute for Infectious Diseases and used his phone to show him the sick villagers. Dr. Gu Wen Kuei issued stern orders: restrain the infected; if anyone lapses into a coma, secure the person and leave the room. Help would come soon.

Fifty men in hazmat suits arrived. They claimed to be from the Ministry of Health but were in fact from the Ministry of State Security. They bound and gagged the infected and carried them away. The boy left in a body bag. The men took blood samples and forced the angry, scared villagers to strip for inspection. Dr. Kwang was arrested and imprisoned. He escaped, but not till the outbreak had spread beyond China.

Interview 2: Lhasa, the People's Republic of Tibet

Lhasa, now the world's most populous city, is celebrating recent elections when the investigator meets Nury Televaldi at a café. Televaldi became a human smuggler during the outbreak.

Before the war Televaldi worked the black market in Kashi, a Chinese city near the border of Kyrgyzstan, trading in opium, diamonds, even children. When wealthy people began to flee infected areas, governments tried to crack down on human smuggling. But so much money was on the move that many border enforcers and corrupt bureaucrats cashed in, too. Televaldi's customers escaped by truck and car, but the richest people fled by air, at least until the Flight 575 incident. People were desperate to get to safety; even if someone they loved had been bitten, they hoped to find treatment wherever they were going.

As borders tightened, escape routes became more circuitous, spreading the infection even farther. Some small Middle Eastern nations, desperate for money, colluded with the smugglers to bring people in, but Televaldi laid low in Kashi, satisfied with his cut for arrangements and paperwork. Families tried to hide infected love ones in car trunks and packing crates; they didn't understand what was about to happen. When a group of people became infected, smugglers took dire actions: letting reanimated victims out on a coastline, even dumping them into the ocean. Televaldi's last client was a wealthy Chinese businessman whose entire family was in a trailer. Televaldi could hear fists beating its walls, and the driver had a "frantic fire" in his eyes. Televaldi gave the man some cash, wished him luck, and let him drive on to Kyrgyzstan.

Interview 3: Meteora, Greece

Stanley MacDonald served in a Canadian military unit involved in drug interdiction before the war and fought in Canada's battles against the living dead. He now lives in a nearly inaccessible monastery built into steep cliffs in Greece, where he hopes to find peace.

MacDonald's unit pursued opium traders in Kyrgyzstan during the outbreak's early months. His unit was checking out a cave where drugs might be stored when they noticed unsettling details: blood everywhere, but no bodies; mutilated pack mules; weapons left behind; and prime opium still in the mules' saddlebags. Whatever had happened, rival tribes weren't behind it. The unit followed the trail of blood, wondering how anyone could lose so much blood yet keep moving. They noticed the tracks changing, from those of a fleeing man to those of a shuffling person, and speckled by dark droplets. Bodies lay around the cave entrance, where smugglers apparently triggered their own booby traps as they fled some threat. Inside the cave the unit found evidence of gun battles, barricades hastily thrown together, and people killed by head shots but with "chewed, pulped flesh bulging from their throats."

The unit deduced that whatever happened began in the infirmary, where they found a doctor's headless corpse. In a collapsed tunnel farther on, MacDonald saw a hand reaching from a pile of rubble. MacDonald grabbed the hand, thinking to assist the buried person. Its strong grip hurt his fingers, but he couldn't escape as a head, torso, and another arm broke free of the rubble and pulled MacDonald's mouth toward the head's mouth. Alone in the tunnel, he panicked and fired blindly, destroying the thing's brain.

Back in Edmonton, MacDonald was diagnosed with PTSD and exposure to chemicals and ordered to rest and undergo psychiatric treatment. But nothing, he now says, could prepare a soldier for encounters with the undead.

Interview 4: The Amazon Rain Forest, Brazil

The investigator is led, blindfolded, into the tree-top village of the secretive Yanomami, where he interviews Fernando Oliveira, who is perhaps the Yanomami's guest, perhaps their prisoner. Thin and constantly chewing some kind of leaf, Oliveira is angry and defensive.

Oliveira was a surgeon working in the black-market organ trade in São Paulo, Brazil. He justified his illegal work as life-saving and pushed any blame onto the wealthy people who could pay for illegal organs. Just such a patient, a German businessman, was scheduled for a heart transplant. The heart arrived, procured by an agent in Macau, likely from a Chinese source.

Doctor Silva performed the procedure, with Oliveira assisting, but Muller didn't wake up after the anesthesia wore off. Oliveira was concerned, but Silva, an arrogant man, dismissed Oliveira's concerns and sent him home. He couldn't shake his worries despite an evening on the town, and soon a call from the hospital's receptionist summoned him back. Rosi, a nurse, reported Doctor Silva tried to revive Herr Muller when the new heart stopped, but Muller opened his eyes and bit Silva. She fled and locked the room. Oliveira, puzzled, got his gun and knocked on the door. He entered the blood-slicked room cautiously to find Muller crouched over Silva, chewing on him. Muller turned toward Oliveira, who fired. By luck, the gun's kick caused the shot to go high, hitting Muller's head. When the police arrived, they colluded with Oliveira to cover up what happened so they could keep sharing in the profits of the illegal organ trade.

Oliveira still doesn't know what the police did with Silva's body, but looking back, he understands that because the brain was intact, Silva could have been the source of the outbreak in Brazil.

Interview 5: Bridgetown Harbor, Barbados, West Indies Federation

The investigator travels to a new political entity, the West Indies Federation, to interview Jacob Nyathi, captain of the Imfingo, an "Infinity Ship" with cutting-edge propulsion technology that converts seawater into energy.

Nyathi spent his childhood in "grinding, hopeless, humiliating poverty" outside Cape Town in post-apartheid South Africa. As a young man he worked as a waiter. One day, after a good night of tips, he headed home predawn, in a good mood till he heard gunshots—even a Kalashnikov's distinctive chatter. He heard screams, too, and smelled smoke. A crowd of people, rousted from their sleep, rushed toward him, yelling, "They're coming!" Older people didn't ask who they were; they ran, taught by years of discrimination not to hesitate. Nyathi chose to run toward the unidentified threat, to find his mother and sisters. A shanty of plastic walls collapsed on him, and as he rose, he saw the zombies shuffling toward him, reaching for him. They grabbed at him; one brought him down, breaking his ankle. Nyashi found a heavy cooking pot and smashed the zombie's head in, but another moved toward him. Nyashi ran into the street, where something struck him. He woke up in a clean, white hospital, like nothing he'd ever seen. Addled by painkillers, he overheard people talking about a rabies outbreak. The pain medicine allowed Nyathi to avoid the nightmare—for a while.

Interview 6: Tel Aviv, Israel

The investigator meets Jurgen Warmbrunn at an Ethiopian food restaurant. Warmbrunn's appearance reminds him a little of Einstein's. Warmbrunn's work is classified, but he says he could be called a spy.

When rumors of trouble in China started appearing in decoded Taiwanese messages, Warmbrunn studied them closely. He didn't take sentences about a viral outbreak and reanimating corpses seriously but assumed they were "a code within a code," a deception or deflection. Still, he was bothered by something he couldn't identify. Not long after, at his daughter's wedding, he talked with a guest, a professor who'd had too much to drink and spoke about "golems," reanimated bodies a colleague had mentioned after returning from vacation in South Africa. The man had swum with sharks, been bitten, and sought treatment in the same hospital where Nyashi was treated. Back at work Warmbrunn told his superiors about the messages and the man's stories. Their experience of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, which began when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on a day holy to both Jews and Muslims, taught Israeli agents a hard lesson. The warning signs of that attack were clear, but "an unforgivable herd mentality" caused agents to overlook them. Israeli intelligence agents were more willing to dig for facts, even about unlikely rumors, after that.

Warmbrunn went to work, unearthing information about rabies in South Africa, a drug raid gone wrong in Kyrgyzstan, a botched heart transplant in Brazil (and Area 51). He excavated masses of World Health Organization documents and learned not only the nature of the infection but how to destroy the infected. Warmbrunn traveled to Bethesda, Maryland, to consult with a former colleague, Paul Knight, who had been working on the same intelligence. They spearheaded the writing of what came to be called the Warmbrunn-Knight report, though others collaborated on it as well. Most governments ignored the report, but Israel's heeded it, just in time.

Interview 7: Bethlehem, Palestine

The investigator notes Saladin Kader has movie-star looks. He's an urban planning professor at Khalil Gibran University in post-war Bethlehem, a wealthy and beautiful city.

Kader grew up in Kuwait City and developed a strong hatred for Israel. One day while at his job as a barista, he and others in the café heard an Al Jazeera report in which the Israeli ambassador announced a voluntary quarantine. Kader didn't believe the "Zionist lie" about a virus that transformed corpses into ravenous predators, and he ignored the rest of the ambassador's speech, which offered asylum to Jews around the world and to Palestinians living, or who had lived, inside Israel's borders. This group included Kader's family, but 17-year-old Kader believed asylum was really a ploy to destroy Palestinians.

The family traveled to Israel, arriving at the unfinished wall that ranged through the desert. At Taba, each person underwent inspection by humans and by trained dogs, which went berserk if they smelled infection. Kader saw an old man led away, after the dogs barked at him, to a black van and hated Israel all the more for exterminating the aged. Then a white man, clearly a well-to-do American, was also led away, and Kader began to doubt his neat conspiracy theory. Kader's family passed inspection and took up residence in a crowded resettlement camp. After three weeks Kader and his family were released to travel to Tel Aviv. But in Beer Sheeba, their bus was attacked. Kader thought the struggle for Palestinian liberation had begun, but in fact, civil war had broken out between Israelis who agreed with the nation's quarantine policy and those who disagreed. In the chaos a black van like those at the wall was hit by a rocket; people, on fire but apparently unaware of it, began to shamble forward. Israeli soldiers immediately shoot, aiming for the figures' heads. Finally, Kader understood: his father was right. Israel was right. The real enemy wasn't even human.

Analysis

According to The Zombie Survival Guide, smaller outbreaks of the virus, Solanum, have occurred for millennia, dating back to the first known event circa 60,000 B.C. in Africa and happening as recently as 2002 in the U.S. Virgin Islands. But these incidents were not understood or properly documented when they occurred. Only with the hindsight provided by the Zombie War can researchers, including the investigator, piece together the history of Solanum's attack on humanity. The interviews in Chapter 1 do much to explain how humanity could have remained so ignorant of the plague's threat and why the world was so slow to respond to the China outbreak.

Secrecy and silos contribute to humanity's slow reaction. Until the zombie threat unites the world against a common enemy, political rivals within nations and global competition for resources and dominance among nations lead to cover-ups and lies. Dr. Kwang sees it in China, where the government works hard to control information. He thinks he's treating Patient Zero, but in fact the infection is already a concern for the government, which has teams ready to deploy immediately. His colleague and friend risks his freedom to warn him, and to stop Dr. Kwang from raising an alarm, the government he's long served imprisons him. While readers might expect such reactions from a collectivist government, the United States, champion of individualism, does much the same thing later in the war. Information silos effectively capture information; it takes experts days of careful investigation to piece details together and begin to see the picture.

Corruption and denial also allow the plague to spread rapidly. Nury Televaldi, who smuggled people across China's border early in the war, realizes something important: "maybe money wasn't going to be much good for much longer." He's correct, but at first, the things that matter to people—money, power, influence—are still persuasive. As for Fernando Oliveira, who assists with a dubious heart transplant because his "beach house needed a new herbal Jacuzzi," money especially persuades people to get involved in shady enterprises and to profit from desperation. Corrupt behavior and denial go hand in hand, too, since people on the take must assume they'll live to use what they gain. But denial is common among individuals (such as Saladin Kader's youthful insistence that Israel is using wild stories to trick Palestinians) and governments (such as the world's refusal to heed the Warmbrunn-Knight report). The panicked families fleeing China, lured by lies about a cure, and the Canadian military doctors who refuse Stanley MacDonald's explanation are also in denial. But perhaps it's understandable. As MacDonald says, "Who in his right mind could have been ready for this?"

Clearly, dysfunctional human behavior and interactions allow the infection to tear across the world. But even in these early interviews, the investigator speaks with people who resist the forces that allow the plague to spread. Dr. Kwang would likely have raised an alarm, and MacDonald tries to do so. Kader's father recognizes the danger and sensibly flees it; Israel quickly completes its wall and puts the dogs to use sniffing out infection, dealing summarily with anyone who's been bitten. A shift away from denial and toward action marks the next stages of the war.

A note on Brooks's style: Brooks, who studied history in college, put his research skills to the test while writing World War Z. He told a British interviewer he'd "never done so much research" in his life and worked hard to get the details about each nation and city correct, down to details about geography, history, and culture. Brooks told the interviewer he hoped to combat stereotypical understandings some readers might bring to the book, but the details also support the book's verisimilitude. Verisimilitude in literature is simply how similar to truth or reality a work is. A novel set in 18th-century London, for example, requires characters that dress and behave in historically "real" ways. A pierced, tattooed lifter would disrupt the novel's verisimilitude. Even works with elements of fantasy or science fiction, like the zombies in World War Z, can have verisimilitude. Brooks establishes the "rules" of the zombies' behavior. As long as the zombies abide by these rules, they feel real.

Brooks bolsters the realism of the work by weaving in many small details, such as the drowned villages under the lake created by the Three Gorges Dam and the anger some displaced people feel about their lost homes. He names specific restaurants and uses real places—street names, universities, and so on—to sustain the work's premise: it has the feel, and the detail, of an actual oral history about real historical events. Brooks's attention to detail makes a far-fetched premise (zombies eating their way around the world) feel possible and therefore scary. The realistic details move the story from "What if?" to "What now?"

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