Throwback Thursday: Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My choice for this week is: Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong.

Taken from my review in 2009, this book is still firmly at the top of my favourite ever reads. In 2008 it won the first ever Man Asia Literary Prize and with good reason. I have hardly ever come across anyone else who has read it but I honestly recommend so highly.

Image result for wolf totem jiang rongWhat I thought:

From the very first page I was hooked. Jiang Rong creates such a vivid and compelling narrative that I found myself simultaneously gripped with the story yet trying to slow down and savour every word, so beautiful was each sentence.

Wolf Totem is semi-autobiographical and Jiang’s passion for the Mongolian grasslands shines through on every page. The description of the grasslands themselves, the wildlife, the lifestyle and survival was stunning. So few books make me believe that I am there at the actual place, but with this book I was there on horseback, hiding from wolves, fleeing for my life, braving blizzards and building campfires. I smiled, I cried, I hoped and I silently pleaded all within the space of an hour. I also fell in love with wild Mongolian wolves. To get to know them was an honour– they are clever, cunning, brave, brilliant and I loved following their story (from both sides – the good and the bad). The Little Wolf that was captured and raised by humans both enchanted me and broke my heart.

While this book is most certainly a tale of the grasslands of the last 10,000 years and what happens when modern living creeps in, it is also a book about so much more. I can’t praise this enough; I am sad that it has ended as I could have read on for another 500 pages. What a beautiful book, one I highly recommend and one I will be reading again and again.

Verdict:

It’s now quite a while since I read this and I really think I want to read it again soon; just reading this review has brought back so many memories of how wonderful it is. If you love animals, nature, different cultures, the human spirit or just damn good literature then you will love this.

 

The Gambia in photos

Holiday bliss – reading on the beach

The Gambia in photos

Regular readers of my blog will know that travel is one of my passions (I still have to do part 2 and 3 of my trip to Paris yet – sorry I’ve been off the radar for a while but I will get round to it, I promise). Last month, Mr Whisperer and I went to The Gambia on the west coast of Africa and it was one of my favourite holidays.

What I loved about The Gambia:

1) The people – it’s not nickenamed The Smiling Coast of Africa for no reason – the locals are some of the friendliest people I have ever met. They are happy, smiley, chatty and have a great sense of humour.

2) The weather – hot, hot, hot!

3) The animals – we had monkeys and cats on our patio and huge turtles and lizards elsewhere in our hotel grounds. We also went to a crocodile park and I actually got up close and personal with a crocodile (with nothing between me and it). I was expecting its skin to be like armour but it was actually really soft (although as my horrified sister-in-law pointed out, it’s teeth aren’t!)

4) The culture – we went on an open top jeep tour and among other things we visited a local primary school and watched some lessons in progress and also a fishing village in the early evening when the boats were coming back in with the fish. It was crazy and amazing!

5) The relaxation – beaches, palm trees, friendly locals, sun. What more is there?

A holiday to remember

A regular visitor to our patio (usually when there was peanuts or mangos nearby)

The most insane place – the village of Tanje where they bring in the fish each day

Crazy, insane, wonderful!

Trip to see a local primary shcool

Children hanging around the school in the hope of some sweet – luckily we came prepared

Wall art with books – and lots of them 🙂

The fruit ladies on the beach touting for business

The lovely Fatima who adopted us as “her” customer

Trip down the Gambia River and through the mangroves

The oyster ladies in the mangroves

Chilling with one of my books on the beach – bliss

Band on the beach

I’m watching you!!!

Hanmade batik’s

Our hotel

  Have you ever been to Africa? Where else do you recommend that I add to my “travel hist-list”?

NB/ The above photos belong to me and may not be used without my permission. Thank you.

Day 4 – A favourite translated book

What time is it, Mr Wolf?

Up until I started blogging I never really paid attention to wether or not a book was translated. It’s only since reading other blogs (in particular Winstonsdad’s Blog – go and check out Stu’s blog for some real inspiration on who to read in translated books) that I became aware of just what an art it really is. Translating isn’t merely directly translating the words or even the general meaning into English, but it is about really getting under the skin of a book and the very essence of it. It’s a proper skill and has given me a whole new awareness of how a translation can either make or break a book.

My favourite translated book does have to be Wolf Totem, however, as it is actually my favourite book ever regardless of the fact that it is translated from Mandarin. Howard Goldblatt is a professor and has translated numerous works from Chinese into English (and this makes me think I should check out more of his works – especially as I have just found out while googling him that in the first four years of the Asian Man Booker Prize, 3 out of the 4 winners – including Wolf Totem – were translated by him!)

Here is my review of Wolf Totem:

“From the very first page I was hooked. Jiang Rong creates such a vivid and compelling narrative that I found myself similtaniously gripped with the story yet trying to slow down and savour every word, so beautiful was each sentence.

Wolf Totem is semi-autobiographical and Jiang’s passion for the Mongolian grasslands shines through on every page. The description of the grasslands themselves, the wildlife, the lifestyle and survival was stunning. So few books make me believe that I am there at the actual place, but with this book I was there on horseback, hiding from wolves, fleeing for my life, braving blizzards and building campfires. I smiled, I cried, I hoped and I silently pleaded all within the space of an hour. I also fell in love with wild Mongolian wolves. To get to know them was a pleasure – they are clever, cunning, brave, brilliant and I loved following their story (from both sides – the good and the bad). The Little Wolf that was captured and raised by humans both endeared me and broke my heart.

While this book is most certainly a tale of the grasslands of the last 10,000 years and what happens when modern living creeps in, it is also a book about so much more. I can’t praise this enough; I am sad that it has ended as I could have read on for another 500 pages. What a beautiful book, one I highly recommend and one I will be reading again and again.

 

I hope I have persuaded you to read it.

 

  Which translated books are your favourites?

 

Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The Blurb:

“Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life’s ordeals.

On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoë at his side.

A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life…as only a dog could tell it.”

(source: goodreads.com)

What I thought:

I am not just a sucker for books about / narrated by animals – I love them: In fact in real life I quite often prefer animals to people. Some of my favourite books ever are Life of Pi, Animal Farm and Water for Elephants so why this book has sat on my shelf for the last few years in anyones guess. Anyway, this lovely dog finally got his moment as I curled up to read his tale.

The book is narrated by Enzo, who starts off by telling us that he is an elderly dog and knows he is not long for this world and feels that he is ready for what comes next (i.e. dying and then coming back as a man in his next life):

“In Mongolia, when a dog dies, he is buried high in the hills so people cannot walk on his grave. The dog’s master whispers into the dog’s ear his wishes that the dog will return as a man in his next life. The his tail is cut off and put beneath his head, and a piece of meat or fat is placed in his mouth to sutstain his soul on its journey; before he is reincarnated, the dog’s soul is freed to travel the land, to run across the high desert plains for as long as he would like.

I learned that from a program on the National Geographic Channel, so I believe it is true. Not all dogs return as men, they say; only those who are ready.

I am ready.”

If you have ever wondered what’s on a dogs mind then look no further. Enzo is a wonderful character and narrator, and he takes the reader on a wonderful, funny, heartbreaking and memorable journey. Enzo’s master, Dennis, works in a BMW garage but his one big ambition is to make it as a Formula-1 driver. This is where Enzo’s passion for racing comes in as he has spent many an hour watching the sport on the TV with Dennis and also when he is left at home for long periods the racing channel is often left on for him to watch while he is on his own. When Dennis gets married and has a little girl, Zoe, Enzo has a whole new family to dote on and it is their life (with it many ups and downs) that he takes us on a journey with.

I loved Enzo’s quiet wisdom, his loyalty and his philosophy. He is a brilliantly insicive, clever, witty and sensitive dog:

““…I don’t understand why people insist on pitting the concepts of evolution and creating against each other. Why can’t they see that spiritualism and science are one? That bodies evolve and sols evolve and the universe is a fluid place that marries them both in a wonderful package called a human being. What’s wrong with that idea?”

Yes, there are some heartbreaking moments but I promise that you will smile through the tears. If you’ve ever loved an animal / pet or ever wondered what they think and feel and what happens when they’re gone then give this book a go. I adored it.

(source: this book is from my own shelves)

And now here’s a treat – just because I absolutely love this dog. This You Tube clip is doing the rounds at the moment and I can’t stop laughing. So for all you dog fans out there (and even if you’re not) you’ll love this! Enjoy! 🙂

One Book, Two Book, Three Book, Four… and Five…

A fun meme for a Friday courtesy of the lovely Simon at Stuck in a Book (check out his blog; he’s really good fun):

 

 

The book I am currently reading:

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht. This seems to be taking me an age to read but I am enjoying it. A little slower than I would have liked but sometimes it’s a good thing to savour a book rather than race through it. And of course it features a tiger (and you know how much I love tigers – à la Richard Parker from Life of Pi).

 

 

The last book I finished:

Now You See Me by S J Bolton. I am lucky enough to have a copy of this already as it hasn’t quite reached the shops yet (although look out for it as it will be on those shelves in a matter of days). I have discovered this author this year and have just loved her books. Now You See Me is no exception. Women are being killed in London and they have all the hallmarks of Jack The Ripper….

 

 

The next book I want to read:

 

This is a really difficult one as I am incredibly fickle and can be easily swayed by something shiny and new, but at the moment I want to read The Attack by Yasmina Khadra. I reserve the right to change my mind entirely on a whim, however.

 

 

The last book I bought:

Battle Royale by Kaushun Takami . This was recommended to me as being sort of Hunger Games-ish only set in Japan and a lot more brutal. I found this copy yesterday, brand new, in my local garden centre for one pound!!!

 

 

The last book I was given:

Hmmmm, this is a difficult one as I hardly EVER get any books given to me (people seem to think I have too many already. Tsk!). Apart from lovely publishers who regularly send me parcels (I love it – and them!) then probably the last book I was given was  I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman (known as Don’t Look Back in the UK) by lovely friend Stacie from the USA who I know from a group on Goodreads (there are 14 of us and we do a Secret Santa every year).

 

What would your five be?

 

Book Review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

The Blurb:

“Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski’s ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.

Jacob was there because his luck had run out – orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive ‘ship of fools’. It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn’t have an act – in fact, she couldn’t even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.”

(source: www.goodreads.com)

What I thought:

It’s actually about 4 years since I read this book, but having just gone to the cinema to see the new film version it has reawoken lots of memories and made me want to read the book again; I loved it the first time around but I want to enter their world all over again.

This book is a real gem: a rare gem that thrills and shocks simultaniously. This is a beautifully written, well researched, off-beat love story about a young man called Jacob who (having been suddenly orphaned at the age of 22 while at university and in the age of the depression in America) finds himself, quite unexpectidley, working for a circus. Here we are treated to a feast of colourful (many rather unsavoury) characters (with dwarfes, bearded ladies and a whole host of animals).  This book is just spectacular – the way that I was immersed into circus life was astounding, I really felt the atmosphere, the sounds, the smells; I was there in the big top, there on the train in the dead of night, there at the raucus after-show parties – Gruen did a fantastic job of setting the scene.

Animals are one of my biggest passions (along with books and travel) and therefore any book containing animals is usually a hit with me. Water for Elephants is not only a love story between Jacob and Marlena (a married woman whom he loves from afar) but also between Jacob and his animals, imparticular an elephant named Rosie whom I also fell in love with.
The story flits between Jacob as an old man in a nursing home (where a circus comes to town which brings back all his memories) and Jacob in the 1930’s during his circus years. This is a wonderfully written, engrosing, captivating novel and I felt lost when I had finished it; I truly had wothdrawal symptoms. Now after having seen the film (with the deeeeeeelicious Robert Pattinson – which is a good enough reason alone to go and see the film!) I want to immerse myself in this wonderuful vibrant and chaotic world that is The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. If you think you won’t like a book set in a circus, think again; there’s so much more to it and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Book Review: Dog Boy by Eva Hornung

The Blurb:

“Four-year-old Romochka is left alone in a dark, empty Moscow apartment. After a few days, hunger drives him outside, where he sees a large, yellow dog loping past and follows her to her lair on the outskirts of the city. During the seasons that follow, Romochka changes from a boy into something far wilder. He learns to see in the dark, attack enemies with tooth and claw, and understand the strict pack code. But when he begins to hunt in the city, the world of human beings, it is only a matter of time before the authorities take an interest.”

 

(source: Amazon.com)

 

What I thought:

As soon as I saw this book sitting on a shelf in Waterstones I made a bee line straight for it. I am such a huge animal lover and I am a sucker for books with animals on the cover, in the title or narrated by them. Wolf Totem, Animal Farm, Black Beauty and Life of Pi all feature in my list of favourite books of all time.

Dog Boy is narrated by Ramochka, a four year old boy who lives with his mother and his latest “unlce” in a high-rise appartment block in Moscow. After several days of his mum not returning, seeing Unlce moving out all the furniture, and being left to fend for himself in freeing conditions and with no food, he finally ventures outside. Cold and hungry, Ramochka follows a large sandy coloured dog back to her lair. The dog becomes the only source of food,warmth and comfort that Ramochka has available to him and he begins to see the dog as his Mamochka. The puppies that Mamochka is already nursing become his siblings and they accept him into their fold immediately and unquestioningly. The two older siblings, however, take more convincing but eventually Ramochka becomes a permanent and invaluable member of their little family, all living together in the basement of a derilict church in the harshest of conditions. The longer the new family are together, the more Ramochka begins to forget his old life, and before long he is eating rats and other fresh kill that any one of the pack manage to bring home.

What I loved about this book was the real love and strength of the bond between human and animal. It was amazing to see how the pack of stray dogs veiw the world, through the eyes of a small boy. The story is alternately shocking, pitiful, heartbreaking, tender, joyful and fascinating. I fell in love, smiled, cried and hoped. To live with this group of animals for a few days was a privelidge and one I won’t forget easily.

A highly recommended read. This is firmly in the top few books I have read so far in 2010. Wondeful, captivating, a must-read.