OTC 6: "Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch" -- China
This is my sixth book for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge 2009.
Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch by Dai Sijie, originally published in Paris in French in 2003, translation by Ina Rilke published in 2005.
This novel is a picaresque satire of modern China, comic and at times farcical. The protagonist Mr. Muo returns to China after 11 years spent in Paris supposedly working on his Ph. D. on Silk Road languages but actually absorbed in the study of Freudian dream analysis. His goal in returning is to free the young woman (whose name translates roughly as "Volcano on the Old Moon") he fell in love with as an undergraduate in China; she has been imprisoned for having taken and provided photographs of the punishments meted out to Chinese dissidents to western journalists. The corrupt judge who has sentenced her regularly frees those he's sentenced in return for hefty bribes; however, rather than being willing to accept money to free her, the aging judge wishes to restore his youth and potency by deflowering a virgin (according to traditional Chinese beliefs, at least)and demands that Muo provide him with one. Muo sets out on a quest to find a willing virgin, intending to use his knowledge of Freudian dream interpretation to help him identify such a young woman.
Unfortunately, what he discovers is that, not only is Chinese government corrupt, but that Chinese society has all-too-readily adopted western sexual values and, not to put too fine a point on it, there's a serious virgin shortage in China. His search takes a number of bizarre turns, including Mr. Muo's deflowering of the first willing virgin he encounters (and himself at the same time) after the two of them are seriously frightened in a mortuary when the judge who has died suddenly returns to life. From there, it's all downhill for the totally inept Mr. Muo as he pursues his quest through a society that's not at all what the Chinese authorities want the world -- and the Chinese people -- to believe it is.
Although at moments descending into perhaps a bit more silliness than is necessary, in general the novel presents an interesting view of Chinese society by one born and raised in China during the Cultural Revolution who left China and has lived in France since 1984.