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Wolf Totem

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  3,614 ratings  ·  527 reviews
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
Hardcover, 527 pages
Published March 27th 2008 by Penguin Press (first published April 1st 2004)
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Average rating 4.03  · 
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Alice Poon
Mar 24, 2014 rated it really liked it

I read the Chinese edition (original) of this novel and posted my review on June 18, 2008 on Asia Sentinel's website. I'm re-posting it here.

Before dwelling on the good points, let me just quickly point out the one thing that I found hardest to accept, and that is the author’s tendency to explain away the weak disposition of the Chinese ethnic race with a simplistic rationale that it is due to the traditional sedentary agricultural lifestyle since the ancient times, and then to attribute all glo
Dec 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in Chinese history or natural history
This has been a reading experience unlike any other for me. Through the eyes of a Chinese student, sent to Inner Mongolia as part of a volunteer program during the Cultural Revolution, we see a nomadic way of life as it has existed for centuries and as it is on the verge of it's death before encroaching masses of Chinese seeking land and food. (The author was involved in the same type of program for 11 years, beginning in 1967.)

Chen Zhen, and 2 or 3 like-minded friends in the student brigade, re
The Book Whisperer (aka Boof)
Jul 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to The Book Whisperer (aka Boof) by: To read with RJ
I finished this book 2 days ago, after having my head buried in it for 4 days and I just can't stop thinking about it. It is the most wonderful book and has shot straight into my Top 5 of all time.

From the very first page I was hooked. Jiang Rong creates such a vivid and compelling narrative that I found myself similtaniously gripped with the story yet trying to slow down and savour every word, so beautiful was each sentence.

Wolf Totem is semi-autobiographical and Jiang's passion for the Mongol
Debbie Zapata
Dec 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: saturdaymx
First of all, thanks to GR friend Alice for mentioning this book to me. I would never have heard of it if not for our chats, and it would have been such a shame to miss the experience of reading Wolf Totem.

This is a novel based on the author's experiences as a student worker in Inner Mongolia from 1967 to 1979. While there he became fascinated by the wolves of the region, and the life on the grassland. Chen Zhen, our main character, is also a Han Chinese student who has been sent to the grasslan
Feb 01, 2012 rated it liked it
I really like this book, but its translation is a problem. I have both the Chinese and the English versions, and quite a bit of the original is left untranslated in the English release.

In the Chinese edition, there is a quote from a famous person (both Western and Eastern) before each chapter that sort of sets the theme for the chapter, gives further insight into the political ideas in the story, etc. These quotes are completely omitted in the translated version. In addition, there is a 50 pages
Jun 28, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone at all interested in ecology, Inner and Outer Mongolia and wolves
OK, yesterday I finished it. I have to give it 5 stars, but I really NEED someone to answer one question. Did the author really raise a wolf cub? This is the one thing that is terrible about historical fiction - being unsure what exactly is fiction and what is not. I know that this has no real significance in this book, but I need to know. If somebody reads this and knows, please send me a message! The preface by the translator says this is a quasi-autobiographical novel.

I have to say this to so
Grace Tjan
"Old longings nomadic leap,

Chafing at custom's chain;

Again from its brumal sleep

Wakens the ferine strain."

The Wolf Totem, like The Call of the Wild, a book that it is often compared to, calls for a return to unfettered nature, with its individualism and harsh, but utterly logical values. The wolves don’t kill because they are cruel, but because, like all other living creatures, they need to eat to sustain themselves. The beautiful Inner Mongolian grassland which serves as the setting for this
I loved it. Heartbreaking and pertinent.

Setting aside any reservations one might have about style (one reads for many things, style being only one of them), I enjoyed the book most for its depiction of the social and bureaucratic processes of the Great Leap Forward and how these brought about the destruction of a culture and of an ecology. The story has an urgent poignancy with its lessons wrapped in a nice little tale along the lines of Born Free, but with a less happy ending. Chen’s love for
Sep 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I consider this to be one of the most important books I've ever read. I also think I need to make a GR shelf titled 'books that have made me cry,' and put this one on it, because despite some of my past posturing to the contrary, I'm apparently just a gigantic Koosh ball made of tears and snot. At least I don't cry at Hallmark commercials--I haven't sunk that low...yet.

So, why is this book important--so important, in fact, that I believe it should be required reading in all high schools in Ameri
Ethan Cramer-Flood
Dec 07, 2009 rated it it was ok
Apparently moving to China has slowed down my reading considerably.

Wolf Totem was a massive best seller here in 2005; despite being somewhat literary it broke every sales record the country has, short of Mao's little red book. It was also made into a movie that did equally well. I decided to check it out to get a feel for modern pop-literature zeitgeist in China, but I think I suffered from a culture gap.

It's about a Beijing student sent to inner Mongolia during the cultural revolution in the 1
Thank god this is over. Whether it's health related, or pregnancy chemicals, or whatever, I find myself generally downcast these days, and serving up a 500 page depressing book for a 600 lb depressed person is not the ticket for making the 600 lb person any happier. Oh, how I mourned for the grassland, and oh, how my heart broke for the herders and the wolves, and man, how I did not want to pick this up ever. I'm glad it was immensely popular in China, and I hope it awakens regard for the enviro ...more
Jan 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
This is not easy reading. The writing is pretty simple, being a translation. But the content doesn't sit easy. Am not the kind who can sit through a documentary on wildlife easily; the bad news about habitat destruction and their being driven towards extinction comes soon enough.

I had to repeatedly read Wikipedia to note that wolves are not extinct and are in the Least Concern category of IUCN. But then, this is not a tale of just wolves. This is about a grassland, an ecosystem and a way of lif
Stephen Durrant
Apr 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
Trying to balance my comments about this book is something of a challenge. From a literary perspective, "Wolf Totem" is weak. The dialogue is highly contrived and tiresomely didactic. What is being preached is fairly simple: the Mongols carry the spirit of the wolf, and it was this that enabled Genghis Khan to build his great empire. By contrast, the Chinese agriculturalists are sheep whose spiritless lifestyle makes them passive victims even as their ever-growing population means that they will ...more
Dec 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Guh... Let me just...compose myself a bit. Deep breaths... Okay.

Man. I haven't cried like that in a loooong time. And I totally wasn't expecting it; I mean, it came out of nowhere. The first half of the book was interesting, and I liked the characters, and I found the conflicts between the nomadic and agricultural ways of life compelling, but... Well, it was slow going somewhat. Things happen at a plodding sort of pace, despite all the man vs. wolf battles going on. And a lot of the dialogue fel
Jul 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The primary reason I read this book was because of the fact I needed another book--there was a sale, and I needed one more book to get the deal. I picked it up because I liked the color and the title, read the description, and thought it seemed fairly interesting. At the beginning of the book I was mildly interested; I kept waiting for something suspenseful and more interesting to happen. Until finally I became transfixed with the play of the words and the story itself.

I honestly found Wolf Tote
Jun 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Put it down to being something lost in translation, but the book's prose was rather dry. Nevertheless, it was an interesting cultural experience and I enjoyed reading of the Mongols symbiotic relationship with the grasslands on which they lived, especially their relationship with their cultural totem, the wolf. Whatever the book lacks, it pays to read it, especailly in this day of our collective enviromental concerns in having needlessly and excessively burned up far too much of our natural reso ...more
Gillian Lloyd
Nov 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
At first I thought there would be just too much wolf information and set speeches to sustain my interest - how wrong I was. The Mongolian grasslands became such a precious and magical place that I followed their destiny with emotions charged. The book describes the battle of Chinese development - it's real, it's allegorical, it's personal. Well worth reading but beware of falling in love.
I'm not sure exactly how I should score this. On one hand, I read it for the purpose of researching Mongolian life for my novel project, and it proved to be a treasure trove beyond anything I was anticipating. I was hoping for a few details of life and society as a herder, and somewhat afraid that the 20th century setting would render much of it irrelevant. Instead, it turns out that this book is not just about a boy growing up on the steppe. It's basically a first-person environmental history a ...more
Smitha Murthy
This book was quite the reading experience. All I could do at the end of a visceral 526 pages was just pick up the raw pieces of a broken heart and wipe away the tears. Having lived in China for a few years, I have a fascination and love for that country. In ‘Wolf Totem,’ Jiang Rong took me on an epic journey to a part of China I have never been to - Inner Mongolia. In vivid detail, he etches the fall of a once pristine life and the complete degradation of nature and the environment. I cry when ...more
Deborah Pickstone
A surprise, this book. Starring the Mongolian grasslands with all characters secondary to that. There is a stiffness to the writing that makes me think the translation wasn't so easy - or maybe the translator wasn't so easy? - and there's quite a bit of stereotyping with the Chinese depicted as domesticated/civilised and the Mongolians as essentially 'noble savages' all against a background of the Cultural Revolution as we watch a way of life finely attuned to the environment slipping away.

The n
Feb 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Rajanna by: Lavanya Mohan
Brilliantly narrated and gripping tale of a Chinese student who witnesses the destruction of the Mongolian totem and their grassland by the Han farmers and the problem with China's policies regardless of regional considerations.

Kept me absorbed. The end is heavy. Must read.
Feb 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
stars. Although the ending is no surprise, tears still welled up in my eyes. The view of a lost way of life on the grasslands of Mongolia was fairly unsentimental most of the time, despite the narrator's somewhat heavy-handed infatuation with the wolf totem.
Joshua Buhs
Jul 09, 2017 rated it liked it
I'm missing something, I guess.

I mean, I get why the book might have been popular in China; I don't really know the issues, but there are long philosophical discussions on the nature of the Chinese character--meaning the character of Han Chinese--which could theoretically strike a chord. I'm not sure I get the interest beyond the national borders, though.

Because it's not a great story--it's a conventional story--the characters are never more than stereotypes, the dialogue (and prose generally) c
Moushine Zahr
May 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From the first page of the first chapter of this novel, the reader is directly immersed into the story and the action in the middle of the Inner Mongolia's steppe.
From the first page, I was captivated by the story, fascinated by the location of the story and intrigued by what's next.
From the first page, I felt this novel was going to be amazing to read and it surpassed my expectations.

This novel was written by a Chinese Han and the story is set in the Steppe of Inner Mongolia during the Cultural
Jul 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
Spoiler alert. Here is a summary of this novel:

Wolves tearing the guts out of gazelles. Dogs ripping the guts out of wolves. Wolves tearing open live horses. Men gunning down wolves. Detailed anthropology and biology of the Inner Mongolian grasslands. Oh, and while they're at it, men massacre swans.

It stopped any pretense of being a story by around page 100, and it turned into a rather repetitive anthropological treatise about human relationships with wolves, which was not nearly as interesting
Antonis Gkoutis
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An emotional story which shows the catastrophic impact of the human civilization to the Mother Nature. Without any respect to the miracle of life and to the other species, serving a system of unstoppable development and limitless profit, the human race continues to destroy his home. I suppose the end will be painful and irreversible.
Jun 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book. Very sad, but great!
I love the idea, the author's writing and story.
Jul 29, 2018 rated it liked it
It's an interesting story and I liked the insight into the animal mind. But to be honest, I found it hard work to read.
Sivakumar Anandan
A mistake, the greatest realisation :) Wolf Totem 🐺
Mary Foster
Jun 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
This story lets you escape to another place and time. A bestseller in China, may be hard to find in bookstores, but definitely worth a search! Makes me want to learn more about wolves too....
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Goodreads Librari...: Change page number please 3 15 Jul 14, 2015 10:06AM  
Literary Exploration: Final Thoughts *Spoilers* 2 14 May 23, 2015 01:42PM  
Literary Exploration: First Impressions *No Spoilers* 6 19 May 16, 2015 05:55AM  
Wolf totem 2 20 Feb 10, 2014 07:24PM  

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Jiang Rong (real name Lü Jiamin) was born in Beijing in 1946 and is a Chinese dissident and author, most famous for his best-selling 2004 novel Wolf Totem. He is married to fellow novelist Zhang Kangkang.ü_Jiamin

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“The grassland is a big life, but it's thinner than people's eyelids. If you rupture its grassy surface, you blind it, and dust storms are more lethal than the white-hair blizzards. If the grassland dies, so will the cows and sheep and horses, as well as the wolves and the people, all the little lives.” 6 likes
“Protecting the grassland is hard on us. If we don't kill wolves, they'll be fewer of us. But if we kill too many of them, there'll be even fewer.” 3 likes
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