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Wolf Totem [Paperback]

Jiang Rong
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
RRP: £10.99
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Book Description

26 Mar 2009

Beijing intellectual Chen Zhen volunteers to live in a remote settlement on the border of Inner and Outer Mongolia, where he discovers life of apparent idyllic simplicity amongst the nomads and the wild wolves who roam the plains. But when members of the People's Republic swarm in from the cities to bring modernity and productivity to the grasslands, the peace of Chen's solitary existence is shattered, and the delicate balance between humans and wolves is disrupted. Only time will tell whether the grasslands' environment and culture will ever recover...

Wolf Totem has been a sensation ever since it shot to the top of the Chinese bestseller charts in 2004. A beautiful and moving portrayal of a land and culture that no longer exists, it is also a powerful portrait of modern China and a fascinating insight into the country's own view of itself, its history and its people.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (26 Mar 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141027878
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141027876
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 331,418 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Enlightening, poignant, mysterious - and a miracle' Literary Review 'A refreshingly new perspective on the Cultural Revolution ... harsh and beautiful' Times Literary Supplement '[A] naturalistic, gripping, and deeply affecting novel reminding us how badly we humans have managed our world. Highly recommended.' Library Journal

About the Author

Jiang Rong was born in Beijing in 1946. In 1967, he volunteered to join the first wave of intellectuals who moved to the countryside, and lived as a nomad on the outer edges of Inner Mongolia for 11 years. In 1978, he returned to Beijing, where he took a postgraduate degree in economics, and took a position as an economics professor at a Beijing university. He lives in Beijing with his wife, the renowned author and feminist critic Zhang Kangkang. Wolf Totem is his first novel.

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First Sentence
As Chen Zhen looked through the telescope from his hiding place in the snow cave, he saw the steely gaze of a Mongolian grassland wolf. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gone straight into my Top 5 ever 9 Mar 2009
I have just finished this book, after having my head buried in it for the last 3/4 days. It is the most wonderful book and has shot straight into my Top 5 of all time (and I have read a lot).

From the very first page I was hooked. Jiang Rong creates such a vivid and compelling narrative that I found myself similtaniously gripped with the story yet trying to slow down and savour every word, so beautiful was each sentence.

Wolf Totem is semi-autobiographical and Jiang's passion for the Mongolian grasslands shines through on every page. The description of the grasslands themselves, the wildlife, the lifestyle and survival was stunning. So few books make me believe that I am there at the actual place, but with this book I was there on horseback, hiding from wolves, fleeing for my life, braving blizzards and building campfires. I smiled, I cried, I hoped and I silently pleaded all within the space of an hour. I also fell in love with wild Mongolian wolves. To get to know them was a pleasure - they are clever, cunning, brave, brilliant and I loved following their story (from both sides - the good and the bad). The Little Wolf that was captured and raised by humans both endeared me and broke my heart.

While this book is most certainly a tale of the grasslands of the last 10,000 years and what happens when modern living creeps in, it is also a book about so much more. I can't praise this enough; I am sad that it has ended as I could have read on for another 500 pages. What a beautiful book, one I highly recommend and one I will be reading again and again.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Unforgettable Homage to Wolves 22 Jun 2009
Like the call of the wolves themselves, this book, and its story, echo with Jiang Rong's long lonely howl filled with sadness. It is at once amazing, and devastating, reading. It is a book that as clearly celebrates with elaborate richness a 10,000 year old grassland ecosystem as page by page it details its inevitable decline. It is a book that envelopes you in its way of life so completely, that you will finish it feeling an almost personal sense of loss...

Wolf Totem is based on the real-life experiences of its author, Jiang Rong, who volunteered to go to Inner Mongolia in 1969 at the heart of the Cultural Revolution. He spent the next 12 years living with, and learning from the nomadic natives of the region. During this time he witnessed the epic struggle between humans and wolves that lies at the heart of a perfectly balanced ecosystem, and preserved some of the world's finest grasslands; he also witnessed the arrival of the Han Chinese, outsiders like himself, and their guns and farming methods that were to destroy it. It is a fascinating picture of a war between nature and human civilisation, between ancient customs and modern culture.

Wolf Totem pays homage to a complex spiritual system of beliefs, of Tengger the God of the grasslands, and the reverence of the cunning and ferocity of the wolves. It speaks of the history of Genghis Khan's mighty Mongol empire, suggesting that this intricate relationship between humans and beasts, was one of mutual respect, mutual advancement, and mutual protection. And it is wolves that lie at the heart of the story, and Jiang Rong's reverence, terror and fascination with them.

This is by no means a story, so much as it is a thesis on a dying way of life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Chantal Lyons VINE VOICE
This is the kind of book I would force everyone who cares nothing for the environment to read, if I could. It would open their eyes. It provides the perfect example of how humans through overpopulation can destroy an entire ecosystem, and so destroy their own livelihoods. Wolf Totem teaches us how Genghis Khan, one of the legends of history, owes everything to the Mongolian wolves: his military instruction, and the horses he and his armies rode on, trained by thousands of years of hunting by wolves. It even suggests that human history has been shaped by wolves, precisely because they gave rise to Genghis Khan, whose conquest deeply affected Europe as well as Asia.

The book does get a bit too didactic sometimes, reading a bit like one of Plato's works, which isn't in itself a bad thing, but in a semi-novel it's not the kind of thing you're looking for. Rong also seems to repeat himself occasionally; he realises something, only to apparently realise it again a while later. So it could've benefited from better editing. But, overall, this is a book that will deeply affect anyone who reads it, and you will never forget about it. It teaches a lesson every human must learn. At the same time, it provides an absolutely fascinating, beautifully-described account of the lives of the Mongolian people, and I often found myself salivating at the descriptions of the food they ate.

I think out of the whole book, the line that most affected me was this one:

"After the disappearance of the wolves, the sale of liquor on the Olonbulang [the grasslands] nearly doubled"
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating clash of cultures 12 May 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of Chen, an urban Han Chinese student who is sent into the countryside in Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution, and his attempts to raise a wolf cub captured from the wild. It is also the story of the environmental tragedy brought about on the grassland by the arrival of agricultural migrants and others who do not appreciate the delicate balance the population of Mongolian herders and the wolves, gazelles and other wildlife of the grassland.

The grassland and its way of life leads Chen and his fellow students to discuss a number of contrasts, such as the 'sheepishness' of the Han Chinese versus the more 'vigourous' Mongolians, 'Chinese' and 'Western' culture, and the settled agricultural way of live compare to the life of the nomads. Although many of these discussions are fascinating, they do tend to follow the same pattern; it seems like the Han Chinese can do no good on the grassland, while the Mongolians can do no wrong. The truth, I suspect, is more complex than this.

One of the most fascinating - although overlooked - aspects of the novel is the fact that the Cultural Revolution actually allows at least some of the 'sent down' youth to experience more independence and freedom than would otherwise have been possible. It is rare to find this in fiction, although I have read similar accounts in memoirs of the period.

Compared to most 'western' novels, the characters are relatively underdeveloped and often seem to exist only to help put across the author's own views. However, in a way the people are relatively unimportant in the book; the wolfcub and the changing grassland are the real central characters.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 1 month ago by Christopher Payne
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Great, gives a flavour of Mongolia and wolves. ;-)
Published 3 months ago by PHaire
5.0 out of 5 stars nice book. Thank
Quick service, nice book. Thank you
Published 4 months ago by Erdenechimeg Luvsantseren
5.0 out of 5 stars touches the soul...
Truly an Amazing book that touches the soul, showing how cruel and devastating humanity can be to nature's delicate balance!
Published 7 months ago by Mash
5.0 out of 5 stars symbiosis on the grasslands
Jiang Rong describes in loving detail the symbiotic relationship between nomads and wolves on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Dsf
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding!
Out standing! And so interesting! Bringing you on the plains mountains and lake Ohlanbulag and teaching me so much about wolves and the lifestyle of the Mongulian people
Published 7 months ago by Juliana weber fourie
4.0 out of 5 stars So much learned in this book
If you have any interest in China and it's culture then this book is a must. A story which takes you deep into late 20th Century Mongolia including the years of the Cultural... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Scott Ballantyne
3.0 out of 5 stars couldnt finish it
Well written . too brutal and lacking in compassion, I found the book upsetting and depressing and having struggled through half of it put it back on the shelf.. Read more
Published 8 months ago by christine.graville
3.0 out of 5 stars Too long
An interesting, if sad, story but it could have been made half the length. I found I was having to push myself to finish it.
Published 9 months ago by Miss K. S. Lyon
4.0 out of 5 stars Very thought provoking, harsh, but an incredible read.
Based on true life experience, this book was shocking and deeply moving. Not a feel good read, but a must read for anyone who cares about our impact on the planet and our need to... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Sonia Cameron
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