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Wolf Totem: A Novel Paperback – March 31, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 91 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


"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)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (March 31, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143115146
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143115144
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #89,763 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Steve Koss VINE VOICE on May 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
During Mao's Cultural Revolution of the late 1960's, a young college student from Beijing named Lu Jiamin was "sent down" like so many of his fellow classmates to live among and learn from the peasants. In Lu's case, his "down" was actually "up" as he was sent to the far northern planes of Inner Mongolia. Some thirty years later, that young man had become a senior academician back again in Beijing and as well the pseudonymous author as Jiang Rong of a startling (for mainland China) book first published in 2004 under the name "Lang Tuteng." The book became an instant best-seller in China, spawning enormous Internet debate along with pirated copies, unauthorized spin-offs and sequels, and reported a movie version in the works. Recently translated by the venerable Howard Goldblatt and published in English under the name WOLF TOTEM (a direct translation of Lang Tuteng), the book has already been honored as the first-ever recipient of the Man Asian Literary Prize (the Asian equivalent of the Man Booker Prize for English Literature).

Although drawn almost autobiographically from Jiang Rong's personal experiences, WOLF TOTEM is essentially an allegorical novel. Its hero is the author's alter-ego, the young and impressionable "sent down" college student Chen Zhen. Chen and other students are assigned to live with sheepherders and learn their ways. Along the way, he learns about animal husbandry and the customs of a Chinese minority group, hunts wolves, steals a wolf cub from its mother's den in order to raise it, and watches the sudden, unstoppable intrusion of Beijing's destructive bureaucracy into Mongolia's life and lands (as embodied to the point of caricature by the stunningly indifferent Bao Shungui).
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Format: Hardcover
The publisher of Wolf Totem says that this novel is an epic Chinese tale and that is true. My wife received an advanced copy requesting a blurb, and she didn't have time to read the novel, so I did and it kept my attention. The main reason I kept reading was because I have had an interest in the Mongols since I was a child. Wolf Totem taught me a lot about this almost extinct culture. The one new thing I learned was the fascinating connection between wolves and Mongols and why this connection may have been the reason why Genghis Khan was so successful in his conquests. I recommend this novel to anyone that wants to learn more about the life of the Mongols and another aspect of the Cultural Revolution (Both Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie Fiction Anchor Trade Paperback and Red Azalea : Berkley Trade Signature Edition by Anchee Min show different aspects too). However, the philosophy of maintaining a balance with nature is a bit overdone. I got the message the first time the characters talked about it but then the topic comes up over and over and over--a bit to much for my taste as I felt it got in the way of the story that was taking place between the main characters and the wolf pup they were attempting to raise. I won't give away the but don't expect it to be a happy. Most Chinese novels don't end with happy endings. The publisher also said that the novel was a stinging social commentary on the dangers of China's overaccelerated economic growth as well as a fascinating immersion into the heart of Chinese culture. That is also true of Wolf Totem.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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