three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
18-Sept-Oct-2005
By: 
Dai Sijie
user_rating: 
0

A Novel

A-MrMuoMr. Mou fell in love with a delightful lady while at university in China; she was later imprisoned for sending photographs of torture to members of the Western press. Mou heads to France, where he trains to be an analyst, and then returns to China, ostensibly to spread his Freudian dogma through the land. But his real mission is even closer to his own heart: he wants to free his college sweetheart. How? The judge in charge of Mou’s friend’s fate is bribable. What he wants in exchange for her freedom is a virgin, willing to be deflowered by the aging gavel jockey.
Knopf. 304 pages. $22. ISBN: 1400042593

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Following Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, this picaresque romance is further proof of Dai Sijie’s mastery of the human comedy." Jim Higgins

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The set pieces and the slaying of symbolic dragons that line Muo’s path sometimes interrupt rather than drive the story, which may be Dai’s filmmaker’s eye lending action to his hero’s yearnings. But we keep reading Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch for its voice and wit, for the delicious turns of phrase and perfect characterizations of a naif with professional pretensions …"
Elinor Lipman

Detroit Free-Press 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Sijie’s story meanders sweetly through Muo’s bizarre travels and absurd tribulations amid his gallant determination … while establishing his career in a shabby modern-day China." Susan Hall-Balduf

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The novel is a bawdy comic romp that at times gives way to some serious questions about love, sex and political repression. … His characters talk on cell phones but believe in ghostly spirits; they’re familiar with hip-hop but haven’t lost their appetite for Chinese folklore." Sarah Coleman

Boston Globe 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Sijie has lived and worked in Paris for the past 20 years. … Perhaps it would be presumptuous to wonder whether in the new novel, at least, he shows himself out of touch with his country, rendering it through an excessively precious literary optic. Certainly he is very much in touch with—all but wired to—the dissociative, shape-shifting style currently favored in some Western European writing."
Richard Eder

Providence Journal 1.5 of 5 Stars
"There should be something touching about Mr. Muo’s story. …But the character Sijie has created becomes so self-involved—so wrapped up in theories of psychoanalysis, the achievement of his goals, and his own self-importance—that it’s nearly impossible to feel sorry for him or even find it interesting when his plans go awry." Kristin Latina

Seattle Times 1.5 of 5 Stars
"The fine line between endearing and irritating is crossed multiple times. … By the end, Mr. Muo has outworn his charm and our patience." Mary Ann Gwinn

Critical Summary

This comic novel encompasses huge themes—not just political repression in China, but also love, sex, the commodification of women, and the twisting, winding roads one must take to gain self-knowledge. Reviewers concur that Sijie’s second novel is something of a picaresque; it meanders as it follows the hapless Mr. Mou’s adventures and missteps and enters into the terrain of the absurd. What reviewers don’t agree on is whether or not the novel succeeds as a whole, particularly compared to the elegant Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (2001). It seems Sijie hasn’t escaped the second-novel scourge, but he’ll charm and entertain many readers nonetheless.

Also by the Author

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (2001): In this love story that takes place during China’s Cultural Revolution, two young men move to a remote mountain village for "reeducation." Instead of embracing peasant culture, they read forbidden books and transform the life of a seamstress.