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Wolf Totem (2004)

by Jiang Rong

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7692728,540 (3.78)72
An epic Chinese tale that 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.

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» See also 72 mentions

English (24)  French (2)  Dutch (1)  All languages (27)
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
When you see the phrase "steely gaze" in the first sentence of a book, you know you're in for a tough journey. Unfortunately things didn't improve by the end of the first chapter, with lots of inadvertent anthropomorphising and a very ugly, breathless style. A quick flick through the book revealed that it kept this up for over 500 hundred pages, so I bowed out after the first chapter.
  robfwalter | Jul 31, 2023 |
I really did not know the wolves have so many quality. I was skeptic and I thought the plot was more about Chinese history and very very boring: my fault. Now I cannot put the book down and I am dreaming the stories of Lao Che and his copanions ( )
  Lillymao | Aug 4, 2022 |
Very dense book. Interesting with a lot to say about environmentalism and how society and the modern world change old cultures. There was a lot of anthropomorphism. The setting of the steppes was really a character in itself. You could really almost feel the place. Especially the winter. ( )
  Luziadovalongo | Jul 14, 2022 |
**Disclaimer: lots and lots of spoilers below.

Wolf Totem is one of those stories that touches you deeply. It went to mysterious places reserved just to my favorite characters. I'll carry these characters with me for a long time, like as in any great story I've read before. Chen, Bilgee, Erlang and Little Wolf were my companions for the last months, and while I was living my own adventures they allowed me to join them into theirs. They brought me into their dens and yurts. They became my companions from another time, and right now I am grieving with their departure. They still are on the beautiful Mongolia's grassland in mid 60's while I am in 2019, Ukraine.

This thrilling tale of man and wolf co living through the centuries by the ecological and social balance that it implicates: wolves keep the plagues controlled on the grassland, men hunt wolves when they are overpopulated, wolves teach men war strategies, men fear and worship the wolves. Both wild and brave, men and wolves survived the natural challenges imposed by the grassland but wouldn't able to survive the Chinese invasion during the Cultural Revolution. Farmers, researchers and militaries from other parts of China were sent to develop the region at any cost. The subtle balance was broken from a macro view, from politicians who intended to rise the crops and flocks to feed its citizens forcing the shepherds on the grassland into a new life style. In a micro view, the balance was broken when one Chinese student stole a wolf cub from its den and raised it among the humans.

What make it sad is that it just a sample from the humanity's ability in all history. I believe in development but not at any cost. And as the book ends, Beijing is covered in yellow dust, Little Wolf was buried in yellow sand and everything that came after the farming turned grassland into yellow desert.

Wolf Totem has majestic quotes that I started marking on the very first hundred pages from a total of 524 pages in English. This book made me wish I could read Chinese just to read the original. Wolf Totem made me cry several times and every time I've opened a page I was pulled down to the winds and herds and mosquitoes of Mongolia. I heard the wolves howling laments from distant mountains when they've noticed a wolf prisoner among the humans. I felt the cold winter and I tasted sheep dishes. I've cried with the cubs slaughtering, I felt joy in Chen's yurt with Little Wolf. I've wished this friendship couldn't be one sided as it was. I begged, in my mind, for the author give me a happy ending, because since the beginning I and Little Wolf smelled something bad in the air was to come: "The little wolf had come to accept his surroundings and was happy to frolic with his puppy friends, even though his nose told him that this wasn't his real home." p. 262

I was sobbing on Jiang Rong's shoulder wondering why Little Wolf had to die. He was a brave wolf king, he deserved free landscapes to run wild. Chen couldn't take out its wilderness within. And Chen regretted his whole life having breaking the grasslands laws, however it doesn't mean that before the Chinese invasion there was peace between wolves and men. "Have you forgotten that grassland is a battlefield, and that no one who's afraid of blood can call himself a warrior? Doesn't bother you that those wolves wiped out an entire herd of horses? If we don't use violent means, how will we ever beat them?" p. 129 (...) "The wolf is their spiritual totem, but a physical enemy." p.333

Bilgee reminds me of my grandfather with all your wisdom of living and his prophecies that nobody cared and silently turned into reality few years after. "We grasslanders eat meat all our lives, for which we kill many creatures. After we die, we donate our meat back to the grassland. To us, it only seems fair, and it's good for our soul when we go up to Tengger" p.125

And the dogs wild submission also taught me about friendship and individuality. Erlang was still his own man. He allowed men boss him. When he and Yellow killed those wolves and were recognized among the other dogs, I could see their happy faces. "The students' arrival had taught the dogs they were more good things to eat in the world than they were used to, and eating candy in front of all those dogs brought Erlang and Yellow canine glory." p. 194

They also required a happy ending. They were true heroes on the grassland. "And their relationship to the humans was closer; they helped to dispel the loneliness of the wildwood." p. 195 (...) "Every yurt has someone whose life has been saved by the family dog". p. 196


"Women had the most unpleasant work - patching up the injured dogs. Men used dogs during a hunt, but women relied on them for watching the livestock at night. And it was they who raised them, almost as if their children. When dogs were hurt, or when they died, it was the women who grieved." p. 195

"Dogs eat peoples shit; wolves eat people. By eating shit, dogs are nothing but slaves to humans. But wolves eat human corpses to send the souls into the botom of Tengger." p. 269


This is a tale of abrupt changes in societies. Of decisions made by people without any respect or empathy for the others. It's the average good who turns into a whole bad, as the secret lake of swans which was turned into grassland for the livestock. While China was taking grassland piece by piece, Chen was taking Little Wolf's freedom, voice and fangs, and Bao was eating a sacred swan. "He surely lacked the strength to move the rocks in order to see his mate one last time. A swan's lamentation over the death of its mate and the heartbreaking cries of the old wolf came together in pulsating waves of mourning." p. 292

I learned a long time ago that novels teach me more about history, culture and politics than any school book. It was the same when I've read Chasing the Flame: One Man's Fight to Save the World. Even if I don't agree with UN's argument, I was able, for the first time, to understand how refugee crisis start and how complicate it is to end. Or best, to have a happy ending.

This book remained me of The Secret Garden, Jane Austen, Jack London, Thoreau. And obviously, The Steppenwolf. Legends of the Fall. Mongolia and even The Lion King. "Suddenly, a long howl cut through the darkness. It was a gentle tender, and mournful sound filled with the pain, sorrow, and longing of a mother wolf. (...) A mother's song to her child, echoing through the ancient, desolate grassland. Chen was unable to hold back his tears; Yang Ke's eyes were also glistening. (...) It was as if the mother wolves wanted to vent their accumulated bitterness of losing cubs years after years over the millennia, submerging the vast, dark grassland into thousands of years of sadness." p. 386


As my friend Gesiel passed Little Wolf to me, I feel I have to let my travel mate go. It doesn't belong to the chains of steady shelves. Its story must be read thousand times. This is an essay of my grief after the book's end. Also, this is me stretching my English vocabulary, which is a bit narrow, a bit weak and a slightly skinny (we both must attend the gym soon).

This essay is still being revisioned until I finish processing Wolf Totem. Please, feel free to comment if you see any typo or misspelling. ( )
  Laryssa.Caetano | Dec 28, 2019 |
Lizzy Z's rec -- v famous in china
  SamMusher | Sep 7, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jiang Rongprimary authorall editionscalculated
Alders, DaniëllTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carducci, LisaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goldblatt, HowardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gottardo, MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hansheng, YanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hasselblatt, KarinÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Karin HasselblattTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morzenti, MonicaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ribu, RoxanaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Spens, Renaud dePréfacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Yan, HanshengTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Sorti en 2004, Le Totem du loup est le livre qui a eu le plus d'influence en Chine pendant la première décennie du XXIe siècle. Avec plus de quatre millions d'exemplaires vendus par son éditeur officiel, et – encore bien davantage – on lit le chiffre de seize millions – écoulés en versions pirates, cela en fait l'ouvrage de littérature le plus acheté dans ce pays. [...]

Chen Zhen découvrit soudain à l'extrémité de sa longue-vue un énorme loup dont les yeux semblaient le transpercer. Immédiatement, il eut la sensation qu'on lacérait sa chemise, et un long frisson lui parcourut l'échine.
Now he understood how the great, unlettered military genius Genghis Khan, as well as the illiterate or semiliterate military leaders of peoples such as the Quanrong, the Huns, the Tungus, the Turks, the Mongols, and the Jurchens, were able to bring the Chinese (whose great military sage Sun-tzu had produced his universally acclaimed treatise The Art of War) to their knees, to run roughshod over their territory, and to interrupt their dynastic cycles.
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An epic Chinese tale that 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.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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