Summary and book reviews of Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Zone One

A Novel

By Colson Whitehead

Zone One
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Oct 2011,
    272 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2012,
    336 pages.

    Publication Information

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Guidarini

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About this Book

Book Summary

In this wry take on the post-apocalyptic horror novel, a pandemic has devastated the planet. The plague has sorted humanity into two types: the uninfected and the infected, the living and the living dead.

Now the plague is receding, and Americans are busy rebuild­ing civilization under orders from the provisional govern­ment based in Buffalo. Their top mission: the resettlement of Manhattan. Armed forces have successfully reclaimed the island south of Canal Street - aka Zone One - but pockets of plague-ridden squatters remain. While the army has eliminated the most dangerous of the infected, teams of civilian volunteers are tasked with clearing out a more innocuous variety - the "malfunctioning" stragglers, who exist in a catatonic state, transfixed by their former lives.

Mark Spitz is a member of one of the civilian teams work­ing in lower Manhattan. Alternating between flashbacks of Spitz's desperate fight for survival during the worst of the outbreak and his present narrative, the novel unfolds over three surreal days, as it depicts the mundane mission of straggler removal, the rigors of Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder, and the impossible job of coming to grips with the fallen world.

And then things start to go wrong.

Both spine chilling and playfully cerebral, Zone One bril­liantly subverts the genre's conventions and deconstructs the zombie myth for the twenty-first century.

Excerpt
Zone One

He always wanted to live in New York. His Uncle Lloyd lived downtown on Lafayette, and in the long stretches between visits he daydreamed about living in his apartment. When his mother and father dragged him to the city for that season's agreed-upon exhibit or good-for-you Broadway smash, they usually dropped in on Uncle Lloyd for a quick hello. These afternoons were preserved in a series of photographs taken by strangers. His parents were holdouts in an age of digital multiplicity, raking the soil in lonesome areas of resistance: a coffee machine that didn't tell time, dictionaries made out of paper, a camera that only took pictures. The family camera did not transmit their coordinates to an orbiting satellite. It did not allow them to book airfare to beach resorts with close access to rain forests via courtesy shuttle. There was no prospect of video, high-def or otherwise. The camera was so backward that every lurching specimen his father enlisted from the passersby ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Zone One may not be Whitehead's finest novel, but it's a satisfying, riveting read. The beautifully long, descriptive sentences are richly sensuous, and the languid plot is driven by characters rendered life-like through the author's choice of third-person omniscient narration. Those in love with the written word will most appreciate Whitehead's magic. Lovers of zombie genre novels may find it less appealing. It's a story to be savored slowly, melting on the tongue like fine chocolate. While not a masterpiece, Zone One is a distinct cut above the average and an impressively multi-layered novel that is well deserving of praise.   (Reviewed by Lisa Guidarini).

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Media Reviews
New York Observer

[Whitehead] takes the genre of horror fiction, mines both its sense of humor and self-seriousness, and emerges with a brilliant allegory of New York living.

USA Today

Highbrow novelist Colson Whitehead plunges into the unstoppable zombie genre in this subtle meditation on loss and love in a post-apocalyptic Manhattan, which has become the city that never dies.

GQ

For-real literary - gory, lyrical, human, precise.

The Daily Beast

A satirist so playful that you often don't even feel his scalpel, Whitehead toys with the shards of contemporary culture with an infectious glee. ...Horror has rarely been so unsettling, and never so grimly funny.

Esquire

The best book of the fall... a book you want to read rather than one you should read.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. [Whitehead] sinks his teeth into a popular format and emerges with a literary feast, producing his most compulsively readable work to date.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The kind of smart, funny, pop culture-filled tale that would make George Romero proud… [Whitehead] succeeds brilliantly with a fresh take.

Booklist

Starred Review. This diabolically smart, covertly sensitive, ruminative, and witty zombie nightmare prods us to think about how we dehumanize others, how society tramples and consumes individuals, how flimsy our notions of law and order are, and how easily deluded and profoundly vulnerable humankind is.

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Zombies in Literature

They're the undead dreaded monsters that feast on the brains of the living. But what exactly is the origin of the zombie? No one knows for sure - perhaps it's the Haitian belief that animals can be brought back to life via witchcraft; or maybe it's the jiang shi (reanimated dead body) in Chinese folklore that lives off others' qi or life forces; or what about the evil Dybbuk in Jewish fables that consumes the spirits of lost souls?

The Magic Island Though a definitive mythology of the origin of zombies isn't entirely clear, these ghastly ghouls - in some form or variation - have been a part of the Western literary tradition for centuries. Mary Shelley's 1818 Frankenstein introduced the idea of harvesting body parts of the dead, and in H.P. Lovecraft...

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