Book Review: Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong
May 24, 2015 1 Comment
From the publisher: “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.”
Wolf Totem: What I thought
This is a very long, but beautiful story about a Chinese student who is sent to work in Mongolia together with a number of fellow students. He is fascinated by wolves and would love to adopt a young wolf and raise it himself.
The story starts very slow, with lots of descriptions and explanations of the countryside and abut the way people have lived on the Mongolian plains for centuries. It felt like a documentary at times, a documentary that I would have preferred to watch on television rather than read. But as a TV documentary, it would have been spectacular.
Later on, the actual story of Chen Zhen, the student, becomes more prominent, while at the same time, the contrast between the modern way of farming that the Chinese government is advocating and the old-fashioned way of life on the plain is very clearly and heartbreakingly described.
Ignorant people from outside manage to unsettle the careful balance between man and nature, and that is what this book is trying to show: the demise of the Mongolian plains through the poor husbandry by the Chinese rulers. The story is told without too much drama, showing both sides of the medal, but favoring the preservation of the old-style farming, in which wolves, as well as other animals, play a large role, and without which, farming is doomed to be discontinued within a few decades.
Full of powerful descriptions, but a bit slow at times.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (good)
Number of pages: 400
First published: 2004
Translated: from the Chinese (Lang Tuteng) to Dutch by Daniëlle Alders, Marion Drolsbach, Susan Ridder, Jaap Sietse Zuierveld, and Selma Bakker.
I got this: bought in a book shop
Genre: contemporary fiction