Wolf Totem – the book vs the film

September 22, 2015

I walked to town recently to see the film of a book I read several years ago. The theater I saw it in was huge and there were only three of us there. Wolf Totem was in Mandarin with English subtitles. Fortunately for the audience, there isn’t much dialogue so there isn’t that much to read if you don’t speak the language but the story—through the panoramic visuals—had a powerful message about mankind meddling with nature. In China, this film has earned more than $110 million U.S. I couldn’t find out how much it has earned in the U.S. where I saw it.

Consider the fact that pollution is not exclusive to China, and the United States, for instance, has more than 1,300 superfund sites—Superfund sites are polluted locations requiring a long-term response to clean up hazardous material contaminations. – epa.gov

In addition, the book and the film also offer another way to learn about China, it’s people and their humanity.

Jiang Rong is the pen name for Lu Jiamin, the author, a Chinese citizen. Set during the Cultural Revolution, Wolf Totem describes the education of an intellectual living with nomadic herders in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia.

The publisher of Wolf Totem said the novel was an epic Chinese tale and that’s true. Wolf Totem taught me a lot about this almost extinct culture. I learned about the fascinating connection between wolves and Mongolians and why this connection may have been the reason why Genghis Khan was so successful in his conquests.

I recommend the film more than the novel to anyone who wants to learn about the life of the Mongols and another perspective of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. If you can’t see the film, then the book is worth reading too.

However, the theme that runs through the novel of maintaining a balance with nature is a bit overdone—I didn’t get this impression from the film. In the novel, I got the message the first time the characters talked about it but then the topic comes up repeatedly—a bit too much but an insignificant criticism of a book worth reading and a film that I think is even more powerful.

I won’t give away the ending, but don’t expect it to be happy. Most Chinese novels don’t end with happy endings. The ending for the film was different than the novel, and I actually liked it better—a powerful and breathtakingly beautiful film.

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

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“Peking to Paris” – more than a book review: a journey

May 6, 2013

This is the real life story of Dina and Bernard Bennett driving in a road rally from Beijing to Paris in 2007—starting in Beijing, China to the desert sands of Mongolia, braving the potholes of Russia to reach Eastern Europe and eventually Paris, France with endless break downs and repairs to keep an almost 70-year-old car running.

The closest books I can compare this reading experience with is Paul Theroux’s “The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia” and Tom Carter’s “China: Portrait of a People“.

The big difference is that Theroux rode the rails, and Carter walked for most of two years across China. In Peking to Paris, Dina and her husband drove a 1940 Cadillac-LaSalle 52 Coupe that Dina named Roxanne.

On page 79, Dina says, “China is full of surprises.” Then she dives into a description of a café that specializes in Mongolian hotpot. She says, “Behind me is a full wall of shelves and bins stuffed with vegetables, fish, poultry, pork, lamb and beef.  I count four sections, each easily five feet wide, divided by eight shelves reaching the ceiling. Every shelf is crammed with ingredient bins …”

With this description, Bennett shows us that China is an eating culture.  Food is important to the Chinese—very important.

In another chapter, she discovers that the Chinese and Americans have more in common than she had thought when they stay the night at a rustic Chinese dude ranch where urban Chinese come to rough it on vacations spending time with Mongolian herders.

In China, the ride seemed smooth and easy, but once they cross the border into Mongolia, a band of boys exercising their democratic freedoms throw rocks at the car and shatter the driver’s side windshield.

However, when they were still in an undemocratic China ruled by one party, the CCP, no one threw rocks at them. Instead, while driving down remote country roads police officers in fancy dress uniforms wearing white gloves waited at intersections to guide them in the right direction.

A few hundreds yard into Mongolia, the paved roads they had enjoyed in China suddenly end and the rest of the trek across this landlocked country is mostly on dirt and sand taking a heavy toll on the mechanical health of the LaSalle. Then they reach Russia’s paved roads where the challenge becomes avoiding horse-trough sized potholes capable of swallowing cars whole.

Because of this experience from Peking to Paris, Dina and Bernard are bitten by the travel bug and they have now completed more than a dozen road trips all over the world—after you read this memoir, you may want to follow them by visiting  the author’s Blog at Dina Bennett.net

I’m planning to.

Oh, and lest I forget, I was contacted by Dina’s publicist and agreed to accept a complementary uncorrected proof, which I read in record time. I have never met or talked to Dina and her husband online or in person.

 

The LaSalle in the above video is not the one that Dina and Bernard drove in the 2007 rally from Beijing to Paris, but the video gives you an idea of the car they drove 7,800 miles across China to Mongolia, then Russia to Eastern Europe and eventually Paris, France—thirty-five grueling days.

It has been some time since I read a book that I wanted to wake up early in the morning to read and eagerly waited to read before I slept. For me, reading Peking to Paris was an adventure, and I highly recommend it.

Discover Country Driving with Peter Hessler

 

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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