Wolf Totem by Jiang RongPaul Watkins reviewed Jiang Rong’s critically-acclaimed book Wolf Totem. The English translation has recently published by Hamish Hamilton.

FEW PLACES ON EARTH conjure in the Western mind images of desolation quite as much as Inner Mongolia. Even for most Chinese, the region speaks of such remoteness that, once reached, returning is not always possible.

But one man, Jiang Rong, did return. In 1967, as an officer in the Red Guard, he left Beijing for a post among the nomadic Mongols, remaining until 1978. Back in Beijing, Rong waited many years before writing Wolf Totem, his first novel, which is closely based on his experiences in the Gobi. It sold millions of copies in China and won the recently created Man Asian Literary Prize (from the same people who brought us the Booker) and has secured a record £55,000 for translation rights into English.

Wolf Totem tells the story of Chen Zhen, a man much like Rong, who is sent to Mongolia during the time of the Cultural Revolution. Once there, his role of educating the local population is quickly superseded by his own education in their ancient way of life. The focus is upon the delicate balance between the sheep-herding nomads and the wolves that prey upon the flocks.

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