Excerpt from Wolf Totem by Rong Jiang, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Wolf Totem

By Rong Jiang

Wolf Totem
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2008,
    544 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2009,
    544 pages.

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Chen Zhen could hardly believe his eyes as he watched the wolves frightened off by a pair of metal stirrups. As his courage made its belated return, he banged the stirrups together wildly, then windmilled his arms like a shepherd and shouted, “Hurry! Hurry! There are wolves everywhere!”

For all he knew, the wolves understood Mongol and knew the meaning of human gestures; perhaps they’d been frightened into dispersal by what they’d assumed was a trap laid by hunters.

But they dispersed in orderly fashion, maintaining the ancient organizational unity and group formation characteristic of grassland wolves: The most ferocious members serve as a vanguard, with the alpha male out in front, the pack’s larger wolves behind it. There is never any of the confusion commonly seen among fleeing birds and other wild animals. Chen was overwhelmed by the sight.

In a moment, the pack had vanished without a trace, and all that remained in the ravine were a white mist and swirling flakes of snow. By then night had fallen. Before Chen could step fully into the stirrups again, his horse took off like a shot, racing toward the nearest camp. Frigid air seeped into Chen’s collar and sleeves; the cold sweat on his body had turned to ice.

Having escaped from the wolf ’s maw, he became an immediate convert to the devotion paid to Tengger, just like his Mongol hosts. He also developed a complex attitude of fear, reverence, and infatuation toward the Mongolian wolf. It had touched his soul. How could it possess such a powerful attraction?

Chen did not catch sight of another wolf pack over the next two years. During the day he tended his sheep, occasionally spotting a lone wolf, maybe two, off in the distance. Even when he was far from camp, he never saw more than four or five at one time. Often, however, he came across the remains of sheep or cattle or horses that had been killed by wolves, individually or in packs. There might be one or two dead sheep, two or three cows, and maybe three or four horses; but sometimes carcasses would be strewn over a wide area. When he was out making calls on people, he regularly saw wolf pelts hanging on tall poles, like flags waving in the wind.

Excerpted from Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong. Translation Copyright © 2008 by Penguin Group USA. Excerpted by permission of The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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