Translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt
I bought a copy of Wolf Totem after I met The Book Whisperer and she raved about it. It is her favourite book of all time and as I love books set in Asia I decided to give it a try.
Wolf Totem is set on the Mongolian grasslands and describes the constant battle that the nomads have with the wolves that live there. The relationship the people have with the wolves is confused when Chen Zhen, an intellectual from Beijing, captures a wolf cub and starts to raise it. The book is based on the real life events of the author, who answered Chairman Mao’s 1969 call for city dwellers to experience life in the mountains.
This book goes some way to explaining what life was like for the Mongolian nomads, but it concentrates on the difficulties that wolves brought to their lives. We witness packs of wolves massacring their animals and the nomad’s attempts to kill the wolves. It was fascinating to learn about the behaviour of wolves, but I suspect the graphic nature of the hunts will be too much for some.
I enjoyed the excitement of the chase, but by the half way stage I began to tire of the endless battle between man and wolf. This book is 500+ pages long and after a while one wolf hunt became much like all the others. I longed to learn about other aspects of life in the grasslands and perhaps witness some of the human relationships.
I also felt that the writing quality was that of great fiction, not literature. There was no depth or poetry to the language – it was simply there to inform.
I did learn a lot of interesting facts about the wolves and am pleased I read the book, but I wish it had been slightly shorter.
Recommended to anyone who’d like to know more about wolves, in all their gruesome glory.