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Wolf Totem: A Novel
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Product Description

China?s runaway bestseller and winner of the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize

Published in China in 2004, Wolf Totem has broken all sales records, selling millions of copies (along with millions more on the black market).. Part period epic, part fable for modern days, Wolf Totem depicts the dying culture of the Mongols?the ancestors of the Mongol hordes who at one time terrorized the world?and the parallel extinction of the animal they believe to be sacred: the fierce and otherworldly Mongolian wolf. Beautifully translated by Howard Goldblatt, the foremost translator of Chinese fiction, this extraordinary novel is finally available in English.

Customer Reviews:

  • Call of the Wild
    What a great book this could have been.

    During the Cultural Revolution, a Han Chinese student from Beijing, with intellectual family affiliations, which made him double suspicious to the tyrants of the day, spent years with shepherds and hunters in a grassland area of Inner Mongolia, with the descendants of Jengis Khan. (Thousands of young people had to make similar experiences; my assistant in my current job spent years watching pigs in Manchuria.)

    He developed a deep respect for the culture of the nomads, and a strong fascination with the wolves that were at that time still populating the wild land. Descriptions of wolf observations are the strongest part of the book. Also strong are the thoughts about the co-existence of the Han and the Mongols. His 'host' and mentor, an experienced shepherd and hunter, had nothing but contempt for the soft civilized farmer nation, that had at some time in the past overcome the rule of the Mongols and turned the power situation around.

    Essential element in the nomad civilization is the veneration of the wolf as the teacher and guardian of life. Jengis Khan conquered the world because he learned from the way of wolf packs in hunting. Wolves are protecting the environment by eliminating overpopulations of wild grazers, like gazelles. Co-existence is hard and precarious though, with scary encounters and constant fights for the life of the herds.

    And then the stupidity of state power destroys the habitat: the area is chosen for farmer settlement, wolves are eliminated, the grassland dies. Beijing suffocates in sand storms every spring.

    What should have been a great book is just an interesting one, unfortunately. Hard to say whether the dry writing is the author's or the translators fault, but a fact is, when it should be exciting and suspenseful, it is more often dreary and a little boring. China does not have an abundance of good fiction writers, to my sorrow.
    This story ought to have had a Jack London at the typewriter!...more info
  • one of the best books I've ever read
    First of all, let me be honest that I read the original Chinese version. It was one of the best books I have ever read in my life, exciting and conflicting, and inspring.
    How is it exciting?-- the stories of wolves and their interactions with humans, particularly the minorities in the northern part of China. The people in that area believed (and probably is the truth, i'm not sure about that part) their very ancestor was abandoned in the wild and was miraculously saved by a mother wolf who fed the human infant with her [...]. Therefore, they respect wolf as the life saver of all of them. They also view wolves as messengers from their God. After someone dies, they leave the body in the wild where wolves constantly come by. They want the wolves to eat the body and carry the dead person's soul to their God. They not only respect wolf, but almost treat it as a superior deity. They worship wolf.
    However, they couldn't resist the reality that wolves are not friendly to human. And here's where the conflicts kick in. They have to respect wolf due to their religious view, and at the same time they have to fight wolves to protect themselves and their farm animals. The conflict between emotion and reality makes this book more than interesting.
    The inspiration: this book is more than the breathtaking battles between human and wolf. The author analyzes deeply into Chinese history, civilization, and culture using the characteristics of wolf. At the end of the book, the author concludes that the reason China has been a weak player in the world stage in the past few centuries is because long years of peaceful farming culture has turned the country into a gentle sheep, whose people don't even have the courage to stand up to protect themselves when being attacked. It offers a very unique and insiprational view of Chinese civilization. ...more info
  • Quite boring
    Just quite boring, really. If I had to choose between reading 'Wolf Totem' again and staring at my bedroom wall watching the paint dry...well, it would be a close call!...more info
  • Truly a Masterpiece -
    Jiang Rong's amazing novel is perfectly translated into English by Howard Goldblatt. This novel provides lessons and insight not only into the vanishing Mongol culture but it also provides food for thought about Chinese culture and the environment as well.

    Many novels and memoirs have been written about the Cultural Revolution from the point-of-view of those "sent-down" but this book is truly unique. The descriptions of the grasslands, wolves, horses and people are amazing. The images from the book will stay with long after you've read the last page. And even though you might be able to guess how the story will end you are still stunned when it's over.

    Simply put this is one of best books about China that I've read. This is a book of which you should own two copies - one for your bookshelf and one for lending. ...more info
  • Beautiful but repetitive
    Like others, I was annoyed at the repetition, yet I didn't want to give up on this beautiful look into life on the Mongolian grassland. If the repetitiveness was cut out this would be a 5 star book for me. Even as is, I would recommend with a caveat that you will do some eye-rolling....more info
  • Exciting, evocative page-turner, and philosophical tract
    I love this book!!! It grabs you from the first chapter, and I had to struggle with myself to put it down. Whether you love nature, or wolves in particular, or alegory, or China, or political history, the 500+ pages will fly by and you will be sorry when it's over. The style is direct, almost naive (don't know whether that simplicity comes from the original or if some sophistication is lost in translation) but the result is an engaging, thought provoking and accessible book. ...more info
  • wolf totem : a review
    Author Jiang Rong has written a best selling (in China) novel which in essence
    makes a negative comparison between the timid and authoritarian-numbed culture of China with the rugged, adventurous, and tough culture of the Mongolia grasslands. The story is rich in excitement and detail about life in this challenging Mongolian setting. The independent and cunningly intelligent wolf becomes the symbol of all that is to be admired about this vibrant, but dying culture. The question is raised as to why the Chinese are so complacent when another option so clearly displayed by the independent spirit of the Mongolian grasslands is readily available?
    Still, there is a paradox in this story in that the culture that is showing the world the most energy, innovation, and spectacular growth is the one being found lacking. One can understand that some may lament China's lack of a spiritual engine since the demise of Marxism-Leninism, and its failure yet to find another ism to take its place. With the progress that has been made, at least the Chinese can consider the future and human needs without suffering the numbing poverty and chaos of previous years and decades. Given the tremendous Chinese response to this novel, however, perhaps we are failing to recognize the depth of the society's need for something more personally fulfilling than just success and wealth. Is there really such a serious lack of self-confidence among the Chinese, even in the face of so much recognition and progress? The novel raised a lot of questions for me, which is a sign of its worth.
    ...more info