Jiang Rong – Wolf Totem (2004)
A Beijing student during the Cultural Revolution goes native among the nomads of Inner Mongolia, and learns to respect their love/hate-relationship with the wolf packs that terrorize their grasslands. Wolves taught the Mongols military tactics, and keep their pests in check. You fight them, because you must, but you also admire them and recognize their usefulness. The Han Chinese have become weak and sheep-like, and should learn from the wolf-like qualities of the Mongols.
Recommended: Strongly. Partly for being a fantastic novel, which although being entirely natural has the mythic power of a Sandman substory. And partly for what it says about modern China’s search for identity. Some have interpreted its massive popularity as a sign of an emerging receptivity for fascism. I think that’s too literal-minded, and ignores the ecological message. But when millions of people read a novel that attacks them for behaving like sheep, it’s certainly interesting.
Theodore Trefon – Congo Masquerade (2011)
Various people have for more than a century done their best to destroy what little economic and social fabric there has been to destroy in Congo / Zaire. They succeeded. Now nobody knows how to fix it, and there is little hope for the near future.
Recommended: Weakly. The topic is interesting, but the writing is unfocused. Contrast with Jason K. Stearns’ Dancing in the Glory of Monsters.