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Wolf Totem: A Novel

About the Book

Wolf Totem: A Novel

The winner of the inaugural Man Asian Literary prize, Wolf Totem is the fictionalized memoir of author Jiang Rong, who, as a young rusticated Chinese intellectual, spent eleven years in Mongolia and lived many of the experiences that he immortalizes in his novel. A gripping adventure story, an ecological cri de coeur, an antitotalitarian fable, and a moving testimony to the follies of modern man, Wolf Totem is a truly unforgettable reading experience.

For Chen Zhen, a cultured university student from Beijing, few experiences could have felt less natural than being plunged into the intensely natural surroundings of the Olonbulag—the vast and inhospitable Mongolian grassland to which he has been sent in the early days of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. Nevertheless, with the guidance of an old Mongol herdsman named Bilgee—“Wise One” in the native language—Chen soon learns to feel at home on the great and unspoiled prairie. Above all, Chen acquires a respect and fascination for the ruling predators of the region: the packs of wolves that seem to possess an almost human intelligence and a powerful spiritual identity. Through their stories and struggles, the Mongols teach Chen about the secrets of the grassland, which they regard both as an immense living organism and as a manifestation of the eternal spirit of Tengger—the Mongol heaven. Even as Chen learns to fight the wolves that continuously threaten the sheep, cattle, and horses he has been entrusted to protect, he observes the vital presence of the wolves. The animals not only preserve the ecological balance of the grassland but have also influenced the course of human history.

Yet even as Chen absorbs the lessons of the Olonbulag, the area is under systematic attack from a force far more devastating than the wolves. Blindly driven by a political philosophy in which the only relevant values are human, and convinced that the wolves are the true class enemies, the Communist government adopts a radical policy of extermination. Under the leadership of the arrogant official Bao Shungui, Chinese troops pursue a ruthless program to drive the wolves out of the region. An epic drama of survival gradually unfolds, as antiquity clashes with modernity, man battles animal, and Chen strives to learn all he can about an ancient way of life before it vanishes forever. In a desperate attempt to bridge the gap between the wild and the civilized, Chen captures and adopts a wolf cub that he hopes to breed with domesticated dogs. The relationship between Chen and Little Wolf forms a center of compassion within a narrative of struggle, violence, and pain.

Wolf Totem: A Novel
by Jiang Rong

  • Publication Date: March 31, 2009
  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0143115146
  • ISBN-13: 9780143115144