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Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch [Hardcover]

Dai Sijie


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Book Description

June 7 2005
Following his runaway best seller, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie gives us a delightful new tale of East meets West: an adventure both wry and uplifting about a love of dreams and the dream of love, and the power of reading to sustain and inspire the spirit.

After years of studying Freud in Paris, Mr. Muo returns home to introduce the blessings of psychoanalysis to twenty-first-century China. But it is his hidden purpose—to liberate his university sweetheart, now a political prisoner—that leads him to the sadistic local magistrate, Judge Di. The price of the Communist bureaucrat’s clemency? A virgin maiden. And so our middle-aged hero Muo, a Westernized romantic and sexual innocent himself, sets off on his bicycle in search of a suitable girl.

Muo’s quest will take him from a Chengdu mortuary to a rural panda habitat, from an insane asylum to the haunts of the marauding Lolo people. Along the way, he will lose a tooth, his virginity, and his once unshakable faith in psychoanalytic insight. But his quixotic idealism will not waver, even as he comes to see that the chivalrous heart may have room for more than one true love.

Dai Sijie’s exuberant, touching—and most unlikely—romance is a triumph of unbridled imagination, a celebration of the yearning spirit.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (June 7 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400042593
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400042593
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 13 x 3.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,819,476 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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.

From Booklist

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

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Chinese Quixote with Freud as His Travel Companion July 7 2005
By Steve Koss - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Imagine Don Quixote as a bookish, bespectacled, and hilariously naïve Chinese man named Muo, recently returned to his native country from studying in France and bent on delivering the wonders of psychoanalysis to his countrymen. Dai Sijie has created just such a character in MR. MUO'S TRAVELLING COUCH, his latest work following the surprising success of his first novel, BALZAC AND THE LITTLE CHINESE SEAMSTRESS. MR. MUO is a classic picaresque tale, following its hapless hero in his misadventures (psychoanalytic, sexual, and otherwise) as he travels through Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces in southwestern China. The results are alternately comical, touching, and even tragic, and never without touches of biting satire about imperious officials, greedy and superstitious citizens, and the chaotic impact of Westernization on people's lives and dreams.

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.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, funny read Sept. 3 2005
By Yuni - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch" is a wonderfully amusing short novel that chronicles the adventures (and misadventures) of Mr. Muo in the pursuit of (his lover's) freedom. I thought the whole premise of a virginal Freudian scholar in a quest for a virgin as sacrifice to appease the voracious appetite of the corrupt judge is highly entertaining. The story was beautifully written and some parts of it was so effortlessly smooth that it was poetic. There were numerous allusions and subtle references that require knowledge of the culture in question but many are of them are explained, and thus, do not hinder the enjoyment of the story. The book was an easy and entertaining read. If you enjoy the likes of Banana Yoshimoto, you'll like this too!
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Journey of a Chinese 40-year-old virgin to self-enlightenment Jan. 31 2006
By Matthew M. Yau - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The novel is a modern fairy tale under the disguise of a political allegory, the elements of which still bears the shadows if the Cultural Revolution. Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch represents a conscience - a poignant pang of conscience for social injustice. After years of studying Freud in Paris, a 40-year-old man returns to China to liberate his college sweetheart, who had taken pictures of people being tortured by police and syndicated them to foreign media, under the pretext of interpreting dreams. A corrupted judge mandated virginity of a girl in exchange for clemency from the Communist on her case. So the obsession of a greedy magistrate ensued the psychoanalyst's journey to find a virgin. The quest took him to a rural panda habitat, brought him to close encounter with the marauding hill tribe, and costed him his own virginity!

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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dissapointing June 25 2008
By S. Warthen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
After having read and enjoyed Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, I was eager to gobble up another title from Sijie. Whereas I was immediately drawn into Balzac, I just couldn't find myself ever getting into the story of Mr. Muo. It just ambled along, with infrequent glimpses of the genius I saw in Balzac. This story never gets off the ground, and the ending was very much a disappointment. Skip this one, read Sijie's first novel instead.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Sweet Picaresque Novel that Never Fails to Charm June 8 2008
By LillyandGish - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I loved Dai Sijie's debut novel, "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress." I love the film, so when I learned Dai had written a second novel, "Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch," I bought a copy as soon as I could.

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.

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