"Life on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia is hard and brutal, but it embodies an edifying nobility and symmetry too," writes our literati leader Don George in April's Trip Lit book column. He's describing one of the central themes of the "electrifying" Chinese novel Wolf Totem, which was written by a publicity-shy, 61-year-old former political science professor at a Beijing university, under the pseudonym Jiang Rong. George continues:
Like Jiang, the protagonist of Wolf Totem, Chen Zhen, is an "educated youth" who has moved to the grasslands from the city in the mid-1960s, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. There he quickly becomes fascinated with the wolf, at once the adversary and the totem of the local Mongolian people. The wolf is fierce, ruthless, cunning, and essential to the delicate balance of the grasslands ecosystem—and becomes a key for Chen to unlock the intricate riches of grasslands life. During the course of the novel, more and more Han Chinese move into the region, bringing their naive ideas about land use and animal control. As a result, the wolves are exterminated, which contributes to the grasslands beginning to turn into desert.
Read more about Jiang's international phenomenon here, and keep up-to-date on the rest of this month's new travel literature round-up, from beautiful photo-driven coffee books (think Mother's Day gifts!) to modern Middle Eastern fables sure to delight fans of The Arabian Nights, plus a fascinating portrait of the Dalai Lama and Tibet by the prolific Pico Iyer.