Zone One by Colson Whitehead (Review)

I’m excited to be sharing my review this week as part of BookLust’s A More Diverse Universe challenge. I also can’t wait to hop over to her page to check out other great reviews of books by authors of color.
So, I chose Zone One by Colson Whitehead as my book for this challenge. To be more precise, I listened to it on audiotape. I picked this book out thinking it was a straight up post-apocalyptic thriller about zombies and fighting for your life. BE FOREWARNED, it is not that. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book.
What Colson really captures in Zone One is a particularly flamboyant brand of social commentary and wit. The end of the world as we know it (taken over by a plague that turns people into zombies) is just a stage for lightly criticizing all our materialism, routines, and oddities. Where better to play out that sort of plot than New York City?
Mark Spitz is the main character of the book. After aimlessly running from calamity since the start of the plague, he gets swept up into a pseudo-replacement for the military — maybe something more akin to the National Guard than the Army. In exchange for protection, food, and camaraderie he and his team are charged with being “sweepers,” moving through areas of the abandoned city that have been previously investigated and eradicated of zombies to put down any of the leftovers.
Mark Spitz spends a lot of time thinking about the way things were before, the things he loved and the things he hated about New York City and society in general. I did get a sense of nostalgia from reading about the way things “were” even as I was living them in the moment. And maybe the book did inspire a few fleeting moments of wondering just how long the world will look the way it does now.
But overall this book isn’t going to scare you. In fact, my main issue with it was that it didn’t move very fast, and I had a hard time getting into Mark Spitz and the other characters. Even most of the way through the book I just wasn’t caring about them that much. I’m not sure exactly what could have drawn me in more, but overall I think the book leaned a bit too heavy on the side of wit and clever phrases and not enough on the side of human emotions.
You know, I read books by authors of color all the time, but in a way it’s funny that this is the one I picked for the challenge, since tough questions about race aren’t really featured in this work. It’s meant to be a narrative that cuts across the cultures with which we identify. But I actually think that’s important too. Not all books by people of color have to been painstaking manifestos about culture. Some messages are more subtle, and I still think there is incredible value to reading books by authors that come from a spectrum of backgrounds.
Looking forward to next year’s challenge!


  1. I appreciated your review since you confirmed that this book wouldn’t work for me. Have you read Whitehead’s Sag Harbor? It’s really good and focuses more on racial identity and class. I loved that novel, and I hope he writes more books like it. Right now I’m reading Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, reviewed by another blogger for #Diversiverse. It’s excellent.

    1. Interesting, thanks for sharing about Sag Harbor, I’d definitely like to give Whitehead another chance because he’s clearly a talented author this one just wasn’t quite my cup of tea. I still need to go through the #Diversiverse list and see what else I might want to read next!

  2. Thanks for participating, Stefani! Sorry this book didn’t work for you – slow moving plot and characters you don’t care about definitely can make for tough reading.

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