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Publisher's Summary

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 records there and earning the distinction of being the second most read book after Mao's little red book. There has been much international excitement too-to date, rights have been sold in thirteen countries.

Wolf Totem is set in 1960s China - the time of the Great Leap Forward, on the eve of the Cultural Revolution. Searching for spirituality, Beijing intellectual Chen Zhen travels to the pristine grasslands of Inner Mongolia to live among the nomadic Mongols - a proud, brave, and ancient race of people who coexist in perfect harmony with their unspeakably beautiful but cruel natural surroundings. Their philosophy of maintaining a balance with nature is the ground stone of their religion, a kind of cult of the wolf. The fierce wolves that haunt the steppes of the unforgiving grassland searching for food are locked with the nomads in a profoundly spiritual battle for survival - a life-and-death dance that has gone on between them for thousands of years. The Mongols believe that the wolf is a great and worthy foe that they are divinely instructed to contend with, but also to worship and to learn from. Chen's own encounters with the otherworldly wolves awake a latent primitive instinct in him, and his fascination with them blossoms into obsession, then reverence.

After many years, the peace is shattered with the arrival of Chen's kinfolk, Han Chinese, sent from the cities to bring modernity to the grasslands.

©2008 Jiang Rong (P)2008 Penguin

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Incredibly moving tale vividly told

How did Inner Mongolia turn from a lush grassland full of wildlife to the desolate desert that blows huge sand storms to Beijing every spring? How did the ancient traditions enable herdsmen maintain the delicate balance between man and nature for thousands of years? How much do you really know about wolves? These are the things I didn't care nor wanted to learn but now deeply love. Read the book.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Geoffrey
  • Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  • 06-02-14

Heart-Breaking

Simply an unbearable story for lovers of the natural world. A difficult book, worth the effort, to be read only once. Not for the weak hearted.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Ellen
  • redmond, WA, United States
  • 03-30-14

Thank you, Jiang Rong, for this story

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes. This book gives its readers a look into a part of our world that will never be seen again. The point of view of the narrator, a foreigner to the Mongolian grassland, develops the theme of how difficult it is to truly understand a different culture, its relationship to place and its core values and beliefs as if one were native to that culture. As Chen Zhen finally starts to truly understand it, he allows the reader to share the last glimpse of a beautiful culture and land that history has destroyed and how his own actions have contributed to destroying the very thing he loves.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Papa Bilgee. He was kind enough to help out the Han students to try to teach the Han students how his people live.

Have you listened to any of Jason Culp’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

The accents are a bit weird.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

This book started out a bit slow, but it broke my heart. I saw the loss of the beauty of the grassland and its inhabitants through the eyes of one of the last people to be able to tell how it was. Jiang Rong tells the story plainly, without polemics, and it effectively conveys the profound loss of something that should have been preserved and cherished.

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  • Pam
  • Olympia, WA
  • 11-06-13

Wolf as friend

What did you love best about Wolf Totem?

Every time I hear people complain about wolf restoration, I wish they would read this book. The wolf plays a symbiotic role in environmental preservation. Have we learned anything from the desertification of precious grasslands since our dustbowl experience?--the Chinese did the same thing in the name of agriculture. Do we have to destroy our environment just to provide incomes for a few? What about future generations? How will they survive after we desertify the planet in the name of progress--The Great Leap Forward and similar policies by other nations are blind to the long term effects of agricultural policy.

What did you like best about this story?

Learning more about the Mongols.

Which scene was your favorite?

The troubling scene when the boy realizes that his vision for the wolf pup destroyed its chance for survival--it is indelibly etched into my memory.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Is "progress" necessary?

Any additional comments?

Every policy discussion needs to include consideration of the long term effects. Minority voices for environmental preservation and restoration may reduce the impact of global warming. This minority has been silenced by the noisy influence of monied corporations and agribusiness. They have, in effect, disenfranchised us all.

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Why all the acclaim?

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

Clearly, the Chinese, who have bought it in droves. It must speak to a Chinese cultural lore, like the Native Americans do for the US

What could Jiang Rong have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

I listened for 4 hours and wasn't engaged at all. By that time, I would have expected to be captivated by the writing, the story,or the characters, but I wasn't by any of those.