Although I thoroughly enjoyed many many aspects of this book, including its relentless social commentary about our current world and the author’s ability to present a global scene of one disaster that affects everyone on earth, and many of the scenes are haunting and affective. There are a few things that I thought are less successful:
Once in a while, you kind of “hear” some interviewees’ own voices but most of the time, you are just reading the reports from one person and that person is not very good at faithfully capturing the voices he encountered. Instead, most of the segments have the same sentence structures and choices of words or ways to present ideas so there are not the kind of oral history authenticity that one expects and thus lacks refreshing varieties. After 1/3 of the book, you feel like you’re being “droned on.”
The “plot” lacks an emotional arc — it follows a chronology of the war and at the very end some of the characters reappear to give their final says about WWZ but those words of wisdom pack little or no emotional punches. And the book just ends. When I finally finished the last page (after reading it quite slowly for something that’s supposed to be gripping,) my reaction was a plain, “Good, now I can get on to another, more exciting book.” The irony is that in the Introduction, the reporter/narrator specifically claims that he compiled these stories for their emotional values and that this book is not his but those who he interviewed, and how he has “tried to maintain as invisible a presence as possible,” while the whole time you cannot quite get to the emotional core or authentic voices of the interviewed.
I do understand that it is extremely high calling to tell a story via so many voices and Brooks achieved quite a bit in this audacious, imaginative, and oftentimes enlightening, book.