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With Comedic Touch, 'Zombie Wars' Tackles Impact Of Real Violence

Night of the Living Dead director George Romero once told NPR his movies have always been less about zombies, and more about humans and the mistakes they make.

The same rings true for Aleksandar Hemon's darkly funny new novel The Making of Zombie Wars. It centers around a guy named Joshua Levin — a hapless screenwriter, stuck in a rut until a series of events propel him to write a screenplay, Zombie Wars, about a zombie apocalypse. The working script is intercut with Joshua's unfortunate adventures, which include an affair with a Bosnian refugee, encounters with her violent husband and a surprise visit by a psychotic, samurai sword-wielding landlord.

All the characters have survived a real war, in some way or another — except Josh.

Hemon, who lived through the Bosnian war himself, says the privilege of avoiding big problems — whether it's war or zombies — is at the heart of the story.

"That's the advantage and disadvantage of, you know, growing up in America — is that it's easy to think that everything is far away from us here. That bad things happen over there," he tells NPR's Arun Rath. "Every once in a while bad things cross the ocean or fly from elsewhere and then we are in shock.

"And so I wanted to throw Joshua into a situation [in] which he would have to contend with all the unexpected possibilities."

Aleksander Hemon's other books include <em>The Lazarus Project</em>, a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award, and <em>The Book of My Lives.</em>
Velibor Bozovic / Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Aleksander Hemon's other books include The Lazarus Project, a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award, and The Book of My Lives.

Interview Highlights

On Josh's obsession with the zombie apocalypse, instead of real conflicts

There is a fascinating aspect to American culture whereby all the world conflicts and insecurities and that kind of collective subconscious mind is processed through these Hollywood plots and stories. I'm sure there is a number of Ph.D. theses or books about why there was a proliferation of superhero movies in the past 20 years or so — where this fantasy superpower comes from or how it is related to the fantasy of being the superpower in the world after the fall of the Berlin Wall. And whether that is related to insecurities that Americans might have about being the biggest and the most powerful country in the world or an overabundance of security about that. Other countries and culture do not quite process their own anxieties the same way.

On how violence finds a way to the main character

"The fact of the matter is that there is no space in this country or any other country untouched by history and its violence."

The fact of the matter is that there is no space in this country or any other country untouched by history and its violence. In the spring of 2003, when this book takes place, the United States was invading Iraq. And so it was everywhere already, this historical violence or the history of violence that he gets engaged with. ...

I have lived here for 23 years and in those 23 years I've never been detached from the experience that defined my life and many others — that is, the experience of the Bosnian war. So to isolate yourself from history requires tremendous effort and it's very easy to fail at that effort. And I wanted to, again, to put Joshua in a situation where he simply couldn't get away with it anymore.

On the characters who have confronted war

That kind of experience does not elevate you to different moral ground at all. In fact, what wars do — and that's part of the point of the book and I hope that's also funny — is that, war damages everyone. The Iraq invasion damaged us all in horrible ways. I mean, that's so evident. And nevermind Iraq and Iraqi people — how damaged they are after all that.

But to think that somehow you can do it and everything will be all right after it, that's just crazy.

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