Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wolf Totem


I was given this book by a dear friend. The topic is very close to my heart as one of my children is from Inner Mongolia. Here is a small synopsis:

An epic Chinese tale in the vein of The Last Emperor, 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

Published under a pen name, Wolf Totem was a phenomenon in China, breaking all sales records there and earning the distinction of being the second most read book after Mao's little red book. There has been much international excitement too -- to date, rights have been sold in thirteen countries. Wolf Totem is set in 1960s China -- the time of the Great Leap Forward, on the eve of the Cultural Revolution.

Searching for spirituality, Beijing intellectual Chen Zhen travels to the pristine grasslands of Inner Mongolia to live among the nomadic Mongols -- a proud, brave, and ancient race of people who coexist in perfect harmony with their unspeakably beautiful but cruel natural surroundings. Their philosophy of maintaining a balance with nature is the ground stone of their religion, a kind of cult of the wolf.

The fierce wolves that haunt the steppes of the unforgiving grassland searching for food are locked with the nomads in a profoundly spiritual battle for survival -- a life-and-death dance that has gone on between them for thousands of years. The Mongols believe that the wolf is a great and worthy foe that they are divinely instructed to contend with, but also to worship and to learn from. Chen's own encounters with the otherworldly wolves awake a latent primitive instinct in him, and his fascination with them blossoms into obsession, then reverence.

After many years, the peace is shattered with the arrival of Chen's kinfolk, Han Chinese, sent from the cities to bring modernity to the grasslands. They immediately launch a campaign to exterminate the wolves, sending the balance that has been maintained with religious dedication for thousands of years into a spiral leading to extinction -- first the wolves, then the Mongol culture, finally the land. As a result of the eradication of the wolves, rats become a plague and wild sheep graze until the meadows turn to dust. Mongolian dust storms glide over Beijing, sometimes blocking out the moon.

Part period epic, part fable for modern days, Wolf Totem is 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.

9 comments:

Samosas for One said...

Sounds interesting

A Cuban In London said...

Two reasons to buy this book. The first one is that the plot sounds fascinating and the second one is that any book that comes as a runner-up against a compulsory read is already, to me at least, a de facto winner.

Greetings from London.

mama d said...

I hope you really enjoy it. It's quietly the most socio-political book I've read in my life. It's changed the way I see myself on this planet and in this universe.

Amber said...

Sounds so interesting. I love to hear about inspiring books. I just read 'Animal, Vegetable, Miracle' by Barbara Kingslover. So interesting ans inspiring.

Sea Angels said...

Superb I have ordered it and I know I will love it.
Wolves are beautiful creatures, Conran Lorenz said that they have the most evolved social order, caring and looking after their own and are never knowing cruel, puts us to shame really. Sadly sometimes I feel as if our planet would be so much better without us, hopefully we will just fade out one day before we have distroyed everything.
Love and hugs Lynn xxxx
ps That is why I think we loved Sweden so much, the empty wide open spaces, full of nature, and so very beautiful, like so many wonderful places in our world xxxx

jen laceda said...

Oooh! I feel like this is something I would enjoy reading!

robinbird said...

as always your recommendations leave me wanting to follow the creative crumbs along the path to new ideas, places and challenges.
i love my yoli

The Wanderers' Daughter said...

Ok, I probably need to read this.

Hajar said...

Brilliant write-up. Will certainly keep an eye for it in the local bookstores. :)