Wolf Totem: A Novel

Wolf Totem: A Novel

4.5 7
by Jiang Rong
     
 

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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

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Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An intellectual adventure story. . . . Five hundred bloody and instructive pages later, you just want to stand up and howl."
-Alan Cheuse, San Francisco Chronicle

"[Jiang Rong] is on the way to becoming one of the most celebrated and controversial Chinese novelists in the world."
-The Guardian (London)

"Electrifying. . . . The power of Jiang's prose (and of Howard Goldblatt's excellent translation) is evident. . . . This semi-autographical novel is a literary triumph."
-National Geographic Traveler (Book of the Month)

Pankaj Mishra
…captures a widespread Chinese anxiety about their country's growing physical and moral squalor as millions abandon the countryside in search of a middle-class lifestyle that cannot be environmentally sustained. The novel's literary claims are shaky; and Jiang Rong's apparent wish to transform China's national character through a benign conservationism is compromised by his boy-scoutish arguments for toughness. Yet few books about today's China can match Wolf Totem as a guide to the troubled self-images of so many of its people as they stumble, grappling with some inconvenient truths of their own, into modernity.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

A publishing sensation in China, this novel wraps an ecological warning and political indictment around the story of Chen Zhen, a Beijing student sent during the 1960s Cultural Revolution to live as a shepherd among the herdsmen of the Olonbulang, a grassland on the Inner Mongolia steppes. Chen Zhen is fascinated by the herdsmen, descendants of Genghis Khan, and by the grassland's wolves, with whom the herdsmen live in uneasy harmony. When Mao's government orders the mass execution of the wolves to make way for farming collectives run by Chen Zhen's own people, the Han Chinese, he makes for a somewhat passive hero. Except for Bilgee, the wise old herdsman, and Director Bao, the face of the Communist government in the Olonbulang, the novel's secondary characters make little impression. The wolf packs, however, are vividly and beautifully described. As Chen Zhen helplessly witnesses the consequences of the order, he risks the enmity of both the herdsmen and the state officials by capturing a wolf cub and lovingly raising it as his own wolf totem. Jiang Rong writes reverently about life on the steppes in a manner that recalls Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Deep in Inner Mongolia, at the time of the Great Leap Forward, Han Chinese scholar Chen waits for hours with his mentor, Old Man Bilgee, watching wolves as they prepare an attack. He's already learned how closely the wolves and the nomads are linked-Tennger, god of the grasslands, has seen to it, and even Genghis Khan borrowed the wolves' tricks. Suddenly, the wolves drive an enormous herd of gazelle into deep snow, where many of them literally drown. The wolves leave the carcasses preserved in the drifts, to be eaten later when food is scarce. Bilgee allows that they can take a few, but others, less attuned to the ways of the grasslands, take more. And so the wolves go hungry and manage a gruesome revenge. Thus commences a struggle that symbolizes not only the subjugation of nature by humans but the subjugation of Mongolia by China. The author, who writes under a pseudonym, volunteered along the border of Inner and Outer Mongolia in the 1960s and writes with piercing perception about native and wolf ways. The result is a naturalistic, gripping, and deeply affecting novel reminding us how badly we humans have managed our world. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ11/15/07.]
—Barbara Hoffert

Kirkus Reviews
The Call of the Wild meets Dersu Uzala in the wilds of Inner Mongolia in this sweeping debut novel by retired Chinese academician Jiang. In China, it has emerged as a zeitgeist novel, outselling any other in Chinese history short of Mao's little red book. The Mongolian herders of the dry borderlands fear wolves, and rightly, for the fierce and intelligent animals like nothing better than snacking on their herds. Chen Zhen, a Beijing intellectual who, in a back-to-the-land moment, has come to live among the herders, has plenty of opportunities to study lupine behavior as wolves tear into the sheep pens night after night. Like his adopted compatriots, though, he soon comes to learn that the wolves have a place in the world. "Oh, I hunt them," an old man tells him. "But not often. If we killed them off, the grassland would perish, and then how would we survive? This is something you Chinese cannot understand." Chen does come to understand, taught by an orphaned wolf cub he raises, if with some difficulty: As he realizes, "a rat knows how to dig a hole because it has observed adult rats at work," while he's not quite clear on what he can teach his young charge. That arrangement, life-transforming though it is, cannot but yield tragedy, and it stands as a metaphor for a larger tragedy in the geopolitical food chain: the virtual conquest of the grasslands by ethnic Chinese immigrants who think nothing of killing anything that looks like a dog and who transform the grasslands into desert. Jiang's story is a careful, quiet one of cultures in collision, capably brought into unadorned English by translator Goldblatt. Any admirer of Jack London-or of Dersu, or Farley Mowat, or other chronicles andchroniclers of wolf-human interaction-will find this a treasure. Agent: An Boshun/Changjiang Literary Art Press

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143115144
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/31/2009
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
544
Sales rank:
196,253
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Jiang Rong was born in Jiangsu in 1946. His father’s job saw the family move to Beijing in 1957, and Jiang entered the Central Academy of Fine Art in 1967. His education cut short by events in China, the twenty-one-year-old Jiang volunteered to work in Inner Mongolia’s East Ujimqin Banner in 1967, where he lived and labored with the native nomads for the next eleven years of his life. He took with him two cases filled with Chinese translations of Western literary classics, and spent years immersed in personal studies of Mongolian history, culture, and tradition. A growing fascination for the mythologies surrounding the wolves of the grasslands inspired him to learn all he could about them and he adopted and raised an orphaned wolf cub. In 1978 he returned to Beijing, continuing his education at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences one year later. Jiang worked as an academic until his retirement in 2006. Wolf Totem is a fictional account of life in the 1970s that draws on Jiang’s personal experience of the grasslands of China’s border region.

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