Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch Hardcover – Jun 7 2005
No Kindle device required. Download one of the Free Kindle apps to start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, and computer.
To get the free app, enter your e-mail address or mobile phone number.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Wong's mellifluous, theatrical voice sets the stage for this novel of Muo, a French-trained psychoanalyst who returns to his native China in search of his lost love. Finding her imprisoned by Communist fiat, Muo discovers that the only way to free her is to bring a tyrannical local judge a virgin for his delectation. Sijie's comic-romantic quest becomes a travelogue of the new China, taking in a panoply of voices, a ceaselessly chattering orchestra playing the song of life in the proto-capitalist era. Wong chooses to perform the book as an extended series of monologues, bending and playing with each word like a separate, discretely wrapped treat. Some get whispered silkily, others intoned fitfully, others yet provided with a series of intricately nuanced voices. The book becomes an opportunity for Wong to luxuriate in the sound of Sijie's words and in his own voice. Wong makes his own performance the centerpiece of his reading, and his audacious willingness to place himself at the forefront is a gamble that pays off handsomely, providing a holistic unity that elevates this audiobook over the run of its peers.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
When we first meet Mr. Muo, he is traveling on a train to his home province in China, with $10,000 stuffed into his pants. He has been in France for the past 11 years as an apprentice in psychoanalysis. Always somewhat different, Muo was a university student when he was thunderstruck by two things: Freud's Interpretation of Dreams and a beautiful girl named Volcano of the Old Moon. Muo immediately recognized his vocation and earned a stipend from the French government. But he never forgot about Old Moon, even when she was imprisoned by the Chinese police as a political dissident. Now he has returned to gain her release through judiciary bribery. Unfortunately, her life is in the hands of the ruthless Judge Di, who wants, not money, but a virgin girl to sleep with. Humor derives from Muo's clumsy endeavors to lure a virgin, as he finds much has changed in modern China. A stranger in his homeland, Muo admirably continues trying to help Old Moon. But ultimately the pressing question becomes, Who will help Muo? Jerry Eberle
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Inside This Book(Learn More)
Browse and search another edition of this book.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
If Mr. Muo is Dai Sijie's Quixote, then his immaculate Dulcinea is a 36-year-old woman he knew from university, improbably named Volcano of the Old Moon. Muo's quest is to secure his beloved's release from a prison in Chengdu where she is being held for having given photographs of police brutality to the Western press. Our hero's ardor is made all the more quixotic by its platonic one-sidedness - Mr. Muo's idealized love is boundless, while the object of his affections has done little more than tolerate him, even mocking his behavior in public. They have shared between them little more than a single kiss, not necessarily mutually sought, in a smoke-filled professor's office. Volcano of the Old Moon's fate is controlled by the lascivious and hedonistic Judge Di Jiangui, a former marksman and military executioner who celebrated his sanctioned killings with bowls of pig's blood soup. Judge Di agrees to assist Muo in getting Volcano's release. The price, however, is not money but an evening's sexual congress with a virgin, to be supplied by Mr. Muo.
A virgin himself, Muo sets out to find a willing virgin for the old judge. Bicycles, trains, and a Blue Arrow truck are his Rosinantes, and Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan are his invisible but ever-present Sancho Panzas. Muo experiences a series of humorous escapades that involve interpreting people's dreams for a fee (twenty yuan, but often reduced to one or even none in the interest of gaining referrals), a marauding band of mountain highway robbers, a mysterious old man whose job in a panda preserve is to retrieve the daily feces of the single remaining panda for government monitoring, a young virgin named Little Road, and a female Embalmer (a forty-year-old virgin whose husband jumped to his death on their wedding night because he was a homosexual).
Throughout, Mr. Muo is Quixote with an Inspector Clouseau touch, fumbling every opportunity and watching his every effort collapse or backfire. His attempt to pair the Embalmer with Judge Di nearly ends with the Judge's death, and another attempt to supply the required virgin angers the Judge even further. Muo's own attempts at love are so miserable, he mistakes a broom handle under a train seat for the slender ankle of his desired. Even as the story ends, Muo meets yet another potential virgin for his never-ending quest.
Dai Sijie's story is at its satirical best when Muo attempts to assert his Westernized intellect, gained in France, over a hopelessly non-accommodating Chinese populous. His vaunted psychoanalysis techniques, and Freud's INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS, are reduced to mere fortune-telling tools. His prized command of French becomes nothing more than tonal music to peasants' ears. So convinced is he that the prison authorities cannot censor a letter written in French, Muo writes a lengthy letter to Volcano of the Old Moon in his adopted second language knowing full well that she cannot understand a word he has written. On one occasion, when Muo believes he might be going crazy, he tests his sanity by recalling French vocabulary; another time, he checks for amnesia by remembering the years of Freud's birth and death. In the end, ironically, it is Muo's put-on Frenchness that saves him from a band of black-caped robbers in the mountains of Yunnan.
MR. MUO'S TRAVELLING COUCH is a gem of a short novel, a funny and touching story of a bumbling intellectual, well schooled in Freud's theories of sexuality but without experience of his own, trying to meld East with West. As Dai Sijie traces the exploits of his lovable psychoanalyst Muo, he draws wonderfully memorable portraits of the still bitter and backward lives of people deep in western China, a place where progress is measured by the inflated price Muo imagines his parents paying to compensate the State for the bullet to be used in his own execution. A few hours spent on Mr. Muo's traveling couch are indeed a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
What strikes me the most about the novel is not Mr. Muo's unswerving solicitude to rescue his love from the menacing cuffs. Nor are the depiction of life and the injustice to which people are subjected during Cultural Revolution more hairsplitting than what is already known. Almost every piece of late-20th century Chinese fiction lives in the shadow of this dark period that pervades the life of Chinese people. The heart of the novel is a man's self-transformation without his knowing it. As a sense of futility hovers over every step of Muo's scheme, his tight grip on his idealism imperceptibly loosened. A reflection on his return to China that has seemed to be rueful at the first thought opened up new perspective to his life. His once unshakable faith in psychoanalytic insight began to crumble as he smugly relished the prospect of a new love. Filled with snatches of somnambulistic musings and exuberant imagination, Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch beholds the power of suggestion that enlarges one's imagination. The surface of the writing is more than a reflection of the concealed depths.
The star of "Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch" is, of course, Mr. Muo, himself, an earnest, beleaguered, forty-year-old virgin who's without charm, height, good eyesight, or good looks. However, none of that seems to matter.
Mr. Muo is a self-styled psychoanalyst (his degree is actually in linguistics), who's returned to his native China after eleven years of exile in Paris. While in Paris, Mr Muo became enamoured of both Freud and Lacan and even underwent psychoanalysis himself, though it must have been a very unconventional psychoanalysis for Dai's omniscient narrator tells us that Muo spoke Chinese, of which his analyst understood not a word
Muo has a private agenda for wanting to bring psychoanalysis to China: He wants to secure the release from prison of his university sweetheart, a thirty-six-year-old photographer named Volcano of the Old Moon. Volcano of the Old Moon is serving a life sentence for giving photographs of police brutality during the Tiananmen Square massacre to members of the Western press, however, the lecherous, mah-johngg playing Judge Di has promised Muo her release if only Muo can bring him one thing...a virgin to deflower. So, Muo becomes, what else? A virgin in search of a virgin.
Mr. Muo's quest becomes the throughline of this picaresque novel as the protagonist sets off on his bicycle for the southern provinces, a banner flying above his head that reads: "Interpreter of Dreams, Psychoanalyst Returned From France and Schooled in Freud and Lacan." Psychoanalysis proves to be hard to peddle in China, however, and Muo is soon branded a fortune-teller. No matter, he continues his quest and never loses sight of his goal, even likening Volcano of the Old Moon to Don Quixote's Dulcinea.
One would think finding a virgin in a country with a population as great as China's would be fairly easy, but for Mr. Muo, at least, it's not. He ends up in a mental hospital, from which he escapes; he ends up in a domestic workers' market, where he encounters several different problems; he ends up bobbing in the water near a seaside crab restaurant, and really, we aren't surprised at this turn of events at all.
"Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch" is a sweet, romanticized book, much like "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress," but it's less focused and more sprawling. Where Dai's first book was a perfectly structured, highly polished little gem, "Mr. Muo's Tavelling Couch" often rambles and the flashbacks slow down the pace. I know some people who didn't like the character of Mr. Muo, but I found his bumbling innocence both charming and endearing. Needless to say, I liked him a lot.
Anyone looking for a realistic view of China after the Cultural Revolution won't find it in this book. It's too sweet, too humorous, too gentle, too tongue-in-cheek. But therein lies its charm. I thought the ending was a little weak and I think readers looking for something as perfect as "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" might be disappointed, but still, even when it makes a misstep, "Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch" never fails to entertain and it never fails to charm.
Mr Muo's, traveling Couch is a modern retelling of Don Quixote. In case you miss the point, you are twice told that Cervantes is the inspiration for the book. The Dulcinea sought by Mr. Muo is a long time sweetheart (Her name:Volcano of the Old Moon and we think Moon Unit Zappa is strange) unjustly imprisoned by the evil but bribable Judge Di. And yes you are reminded that the name Judge Di was also the name of a famous good Chinese Judge from a much earlier time, made famous by the occidental sinologist, Robert Von Goulik.
We first meet Mr. Muo as he is already on his quest. We will learn his story in an out of sequence narration. Initially he seems a helpless victim with a foot fetish and a thing for virgins. He is or may have been a successful scholar of Freudian psychology, having studied in France. Over time he will display inconsistent levels of nobility, competence and some skill at interpreting dreams. We are told he is employing his psychological training in his interpretations, but they all usually read more like fortune telling than applied psychology.
The political satire is somewhat broad as are the various serio-comic misadventures. The humor arises not so much from the comedic value of individual events, but the absurdity of their cumulative happenstances. Mr. Muo is regularly the victim circumstances, robbery, assaults, or thefts or of his own indecision or inconsonant noble impulses.
I am not a big fan of Don Quixote. At best I think he is a prototype for modern terrorism - A false noble quest that ignores damages done to innocent by standers. At worst it is a series of elaborate set ups for one or more people to get beaten. Mr. Muo's Traveling Couch is much better in that the quest is nobly inspired and includes some noble moments. There are relatively fewer beatings and eventually the mostly sad events become too ridiculous to be depressing.
Dai Sijie is a better story teller than is evident in this novel. He again displays great skill in evoking the mood and even the aromas of place, but I never felt transported into this almost real, almost behind the looking glass world. About the time I became sympathetic towards Mr Muo he would resort to being a hapless victim or worse.
Ultimately I liked Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch, but only barely and not as much as his first book.