Mixed Stories

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Παρασκευή, 14 Σεπτεμβρίου 2012

Review on Wolf Totem

Hi to all!
Its been a while since my last review.
I will make it up to you by giving you my review on one of the greatest books in the world.

As you can read in the wikipedia page that I linked below the picture the book is a part autobiography and another part research and fiction.
The first time that I read it was about 3-4 years ago. I was riding the metro, minding my own business, when I saw a news stand at the station with comics, magazines and some books (paradoxically, it also had various other stuff to eat and drink even though we are reminded that eating and drinking in the subway is prohibited every couple of minutes), I went to take a look at the place hoping to buy something simple and mindless like say, an issue of PC Master, when I noticed it:

Behold its beauty!

There it was, sitting on a self among the rest of the books, just asking me to buy it.
The saying “You cant judge a book buy its cover” is absolutely right: you can’t; but a cover helps to create a good first impression. In my case it attracted my attention long enough to get me to read its synopsis on the back and give a quick look at the first pages. Then I paid for it, read it and had my mind blown across its six hundred and eighty one pages.
There were three reasons for that.

The narrative was like nothing I had read before and I have read a lot of writing styles. I had never before read something from a culture so different than mine, so it made a strong impression on me.

The story and character development were great.

It gave me a whole new perspective of the world. Allow me to elaborate:

Since I was young, I knew that some things were connected, even things that seemed radically different to one another. I thought they shared common roots or pathways, the greatest example of which (for me at least) came from the book “The Eight” by Katherine Neville; in it, a chess master, a musician and mathematician find connections between their fields, the chess master provides a solution to a problem, the mathematician represents that solution to a mathematic formula and the musician takes that formula and creates a music piece based on it. For me, this was an eye opener; it made me think what other fields have connections that we don’t know? Do economics interact with biology? Can biology solve problems in the field of electronics? Is it chance that led some of the greatest minds in history to study in more than one field of science? These thoughts plagued me, until a Chinese man living in Mongolia shows me the connections between the animals and the people of the steppes. These weren’t simple, straightfoward connections. They were an intricate web of lives that spanned in every direction, infinitely.

Ah this! Kid’s stuff, I totally got the underlying message and everything!

I knew that there was balance in the nature but I always considered Nature as cruel, you know? We could take all the fruit from the tree and as long as we didn’t completely kill every animal in the forest everything would be ok, which why we have hunting seasons after all, right? To give them a chance to breed and increase their numbers, but wolves and bears? What do they provide us with? Their fur? We don’t live in caves anymore and yes they are nice to look in their natural environment so let’s protect them when we have time to spare.

This is what I used to think.

I didn’t get how the predators helped keep the population of the other animals in balance and didn’t get how much trouble is to deal with other animals on your own either.

Here’s a fun example:

Mice. In every city they flourish, grow fat and carry diseases around only because the don’t really have a natural enemy. How about cats, I hear you ask? Yeah cats are fine, but how many of them are there? They kill a mouse here and there but after that the mice just learn to avoid the place, so humans come along and use poisons to kill them and traps but how long can this go on? How long before the poison we use on the rats saturates the ground so much that it begins to pose a threat to the people living there as well? In the steppe the natural enemy for a mouse is the wolf (among many other animals), that hunts the mouse as a delicacy or a main course if he doesn’t have any other food options available, effectively keeping the population in check.

Oops, sidetracked.

Its true that the book makes a strong environmental point but that wasn’t the only side of it that I liked. The first time I read through it some of its issues flew over my head especially those referring to the Chinese (specifically) and Asian society (in general). During my second read, these issues made more of an impression. Here is why: the first time I read the book I knew near nothing about China or Japan, or any other Asian country in general; since then I have come across some interesting reads about them, some are book as the Zoo of Otsuichi, or even manga (not a good source to learn anything ever), but the most important of the was Traveling: China and Japan by Nikos Kazantzakis. Yes he is the writer of Zorbas the Greek. He travels through China and Japan at the year 1935 writing his impressions, the edition that I read had an afterword buy Helen Kazantzaki were she writes her impressions as she and Nikos were travelling together China and Japan twenty whole years later (1955 for those of you bad at math). Through this reads I was able to better grasp the importance of a book such as the Wolf Totem and its references to these societies.

In conclusion. Buy the Wolfs Totem and read it, and then give it to someone else to read it to and buy it again.

 My gratitude to Konstantine Paradias for the editing. Go ahead and check his blog here.

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