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Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila
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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
This one was hard to finish. Not my style is putting it mildly. More plot, please. More character development, please. ( )
  Lindoula | Sep 25, 2017 |
This is a sordid, vibrant, and even comical story set at a nightclub in the heart of a mining district in an unnamed town in the DRC. The challenge in reading the novel lies in the translation. [I would have loved to have had a French copy on hand for certain passages that did not come across as clean or as lyrical as I suspect they were in the original.] ( )
  Tanya-dogearedcopy | Aug 21, 2016 |
Decadence, beat,
  JohannaIdgie | Aug 7, 2016 |
A feverish burst of slam-poetry yelled in your ear over pounding music, so close and so loud you can practically feel the spittle hitting your face. Reading these dispatches from the sharp end of globalisation is like being hit by an undammed river of language – rhythmic, sinuous, dirty, improvisational, perspiring but also weirdly inspiring.

The setting is a nameless ‘city-state’ in central Africa which exists in de-facto secession, run by a Kabila-like ‘dissident General’ busy exploiting the region's mineral resources. The rest of the inhabitants live their short lives in a Hobbesian nightmare of near-total lawlessness and lack of infrastructure, fitting into a limited number of social strata: mine workers, students, ‘for-profit tourists’, and the underage prostitutes known in this book's patois as ‘ducklings’ (canetons). It sounds depressing, but despite the very serious realities being described, the primary feeling is one of exuberance and of messy, creative, insuppressible life.

The main reason for this is Mwanza Mujila's prose style, which is designed to mimic the author's beloved jazz music – he's said he wanted his novel to be a literary version of Coltrane's Giant Steps (Mwanza Mujila would probably have been a musician himself, were it not for the inconvenience that Lubumbashi has no music school or saxophone). ‘Pour moi, la langue française, c'est comme un orchestre de jazz,’ he told one interviewer, and he's used the instruments available to him incredibly well, stringing together these long, comma-spliced, elegiac, almost Kerouac-esque riffs:

les nuits étaient un bonheur pour ceux qui savaient en profiter, les vraies nuits étaient longues et populaires, les vraies nuits étaient toujours événementielles, les vraies nuits n'échappaient plus à la corruption et autres coups bas, les vraies nuits puaient la névralgie, les crachats et traumatismes de ceux qui construisaient ce beau monde cassé…

[…the nights were a joy to those who knew how to take advantage of them, the true nights were long and belonged to the people, the true nights were always events, the true nights didn't run from corruption and other below-the-belt activities, the true nights stank of the neuralgia, gobs of spit and injuries of those who were creating this beautiful broken world…]

At the centre of it all, the city in microcosm, is the eponymous Tram 83 (which I hear in my head in a heavy accent, tram kat van twa!), a bar-cum-brothel-cum-greasy spoon which goes straight into the top ten of greatest literary drinking halls. A small, shabby stage with a band playing bebop or Congolese rumba; waitresses and busgirls supplying Brazzaville beer and dogmeat kebabs; catatonic miners and Chinese tourists; and, circling, the ‘ducklings’, teen mothers and assorted ‘no-knicker girls’ (filles-sans-calbars) trying to drag men off for a quick, remunerative assignation in the mixed-sex toilets. The girls' patter is forever interrupting the narrative prose, from the standard approach – ‘You got the time?’ – which is crowbarred into the text again and again, to more elaborate comments and flirtations: ‘Foreplay to me is like democracy. If you don't touch me right, I'm calling in the Americans.’

Mwanza Mujila took the name of his bar from a late-night Brussels tramline, which immediately makes me want to transpose it in my head to the N3, the bus I got home from London every Saturday night throughout my adolescence. I love the idea of naming a bar after a transport route, and in this case it's especially meaningful because of how central the idea of train lines, in particular, are – remembering always that while in Europe trains often represent progress and development, in Africa they come instead with colonial connotations of forced labour, exploitation and deportation. He tries to incorporate this history, both by referring to it directly (the city's train station ‘brings to mind the railway line built by Stanley’), and also by slipping into a certain trainlike rhythm – among other things, Tram 83 is determinedly ‘locomotive literature’.

The novel's setting is somewhat exaggerated, no doubt, but I suspect critics have underestimated the extent to which it faithfully reproduces Lubumbashi, which throughout much of both Congo Wars, and for that matter earlier, too, perfectly fitted the book's description of ‘une ville devenue pays par la force des kalachnikovs’. Certainly it won't do to imply (as some critics have seemed at risk of doing) that this is a flight of fancy – what makes this book important as well as viscerally entertaining is that this world, with all its frenetic violence and grotesque gender polarisation, is real and moreover is the flipside of our own western lifestyle.

What Tram 83 is actually showing us is the consequences of producing seventy million iPhones a year: this is what it comes down to, quite literally – the coltan in all these modern gadgets is dug up right here by people who can expect to die in their mid-forties. Mwanza Mujila has taken that basic obscenity and made great literature out of it. ( )
  Widsith | May 8, 2016 |
This novel is set in an African city-state which is filled with a mixture of young prostitutes, foreigners seeking fortune and pleasure, older prostitutes, hustlers, drug dealers and con men, teenage prostitutes, university students and bitter young men, prostitutes of undetermined age, and politicians, philosophers and prognosticators. (Did I mention prostitutes?) The favored meeting place of night goers is Tram 83, a club in which jazz is constantly playing, beer and hard liquor are readily available, and any attempt at conversation is interrupted by prostitutes asking for the time of day.

The book is centered on two paper thin characters, Requiem, a local hustler, and his old friend Lucien, a failed history professor and writer, who has come from the Back Country to see Requiem and to improve his fortune. Lucien meets a Swiss book publisher in Tram 83, who promises to help him back on his feet, provided that he is willing to adapt his work to fit the public's demand, while Requiem spends his days making deals and availing himself of the baby-chicks and single-mamas who vie for his attention, and his money.

The story is almost completely lacking in plot or structure and is mind-numbingly repetitive, and after 60 pages I skimmed through the rest of it to find out what happened to the main characters. Tram 83 has been chosen as a finalist for several literary awards, including the Man Booker International Prize and the Best Translated Book Award, and includes an effusive praise filled foreword from Alain Mabanckou, one of my favorite living African authors. However, I found the book to be incredibly overblown and overhyped, and although it may reflect the reality of a lawless place like the Democratic Republic of the Congo this book doesn't provide any insight into the people that live in cities like this one. Don't waste your time with this one. ( )
  kidzdoc | Apr 13, 2016 |
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Exceptional debut Congolese novel uses jazz rhythm to evoke the frenzied exploitation of land and people in contemporary Africa. "In an unnamed African city in secession, profit-seekers of all languages and nationalities mix. They have only one desire: to make a fortune by exploiting the mineral wealth of the land. Two friends: Lucien, a writer with literary ambitions home from abroad, and his childhood friend Requiem, who dreams of taking over the seedy underworld of their hometown, gather in the most notorious nightclub in town: the Tram 83"--Back cover.… (more)

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