Saturday, June 28, 2008

Wolf Totem

I just finished a most excellent book: Wolf Totem, by Jiang Rong, translated by Howard Goldblatt. This is (amazingly) a first novel by a Chinese writer; the writer's own experiences were the “research”. Most of the novel takes place in China of the 1960s, in the crazy days of Mao Tse Tung. The main character is a student who was forced out of the city and school to go work in the countryside. He volunteers to go to the most primitive place in all of China, to live with the nomadic Mongolian tribes who herd horses, sheep, and yaks.

As a reader, you walk away from this novel with a very detailed picture of the hard, surprisingly complex life of the Mongolian tribes. Their lives were immutably interlinked with the health of the vast Mongolian grasslands and the major creature populations it supported: humans, mice, marmots, sheep, horses, yaks, and...the awesomely fierce Mongolian wolves. Humans and wolves shared the top of the food chain, and had to stay in balance to keep the grasslands healthy. Human culture grew up around that need, with lore and custom finely honed to keep everything working.

Later in the novel, modern technology and an alien culture (the Han Chinese) moved into the grasslands, with technology and an utter disregard for maintaining the grassland habitat. The results are entirely predictable, and very sad. The novel can be read as a withering critique of the central Chinese “management” of Mongolia – which makes it all the more surprising that this book is a runaway bestseller in China, and has not been restricted by the government. In fact, this book has outsold any book ever published in China, save one: Mao's Little Red Book.

Don't miss it – it's simply wonderful.

Wedding Day...

Today my best friend is getting married, and I'm the best man. Jim and Michelle are getting married at a B&B just outside of the town of Julian, up in the mountains. It's a beautiful summer day – blue skies (a little hazy from the fires to the north of us) and not too hot. The ceremony is at 5:30, and we'll probably be there for several hours afterwards.

Blogging will be light, but tomorrow I'll post some photos and my toast to the newlyweds...