Tara's Reviews > Wolf Totem

Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong
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's review
Feb 13, 2009

really liked it
Read in August, 2009

This book definitely lives up to the many accolades it's gotten. The only reason I am giving it a 4 instead of a 5 is that it was a bit too epic (I was racing to finish around page 500--as an editor, I would have cut at least 25 pages), and the author tended to pack in too many social details and facts into characters' dialog. Other than those two minor complaints, I've never been more transported to another culture and landscape that is so different from anything I've ever experienced or even read about up till now. One chapter, in which a pack of wolves attacks army horses in a blizzard, had me so riveted my husband had to put a pillow over his head to sleep--I would not turn out the light till I was at the end. Not many books have held my attention in recent years like that. The prose is also surprisingly well rendered for a first-time writer.

Anyway, I highly recommend this book, but WARNING: it is not for readers who cannot take scenes of animal suffering. Life on the Mongolian grasslands was brutal. Jiang Rong doesn't shrink from graphic details. But he opens up an important part of history for us, and in doing so, gives us a glimpse into what our own nomadic past must have been like. I'll never look at wolves in the same way again.
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