Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila

Tram 83 FINAL FC

I featured this in my cover shot post a couple of weeks ago of Tram 83  and said then I had this on my wish list since the US publisher Deep Vellum had brought this book out in the US> I was contact by Jazz the publicist for the uk publisher Jacaranda books a great new UK publisher doing a great selection of African books. Anyway what first caught my eye about this book was the quote this is a masterpiece by Alain Mabanckou, usually I don’t take much notice of quotes on cover but Alain Mabanckou has long been a favourite of  this blogger.

I was fortunate enough to read some of Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s poetry a few years back. I didn’t know at the time he was busy writing a novel, or for that matter the degree to which I would be moved by his new work and how each page would bring me so much joy. When I turned the last page I exclaimed: “This is a mastepiece”

From the forward by Alain Mabanckou

Tram 83 is maybe to me the book that seems to be what must be the chaos of post war DR Congo, well I say post war actually DR Congo or Zaire as it used to be called has been at war for most of the last half century and has had various names. What Fiston Mwanza Mujilla has captured here is what are the people who stay with in this chaos, why would you stay ? Well with the two main characters of this book Luicen the honest writer observing the world he lives in and his friend the darker survivor Requiem  who has had to learn to steal and trick to get by in this world. I was so remind in this two of the classic dickens pairing of Oliver twist and the Artful dodger, there is no Fagin in this story unless we see Tram 83 and all its sins as a metaphoric Fagin.

Tram 83 was one of the most popular restaurants and hooker bars, its renown stretching beyond the city-states borders.”see tram 83 and die,” was the refrain of the tourist who blew into town from the four corners of the globe to conduct their business during the day they wandered zombie-like through the mining concessions they owned by the dozen, and at night ended up in Tram 83 to refresh their memory. This gave the place every appearence of true theater, if not a massive circus. Here’s the kind of thing you might hear as background noise:

“I want ti massage you by way of foreplay, then slowly suck you off,suck your whole body,suckyou till my mouth runs dry”

I feel this paints a great picture of Tram 83 and the people who use and work there.

Tram 83 the heart of this book is one of those ramshackle clubs, I was reminded of the club Michael Palin visit a club in pole to pole a ramshackle place full of the city, like this club The club reflects the needs of the men in a way of this world loose women, easy drink and drugs. Also the way these people are trying to tear apart the world outside their door that is the sheer wealth of minerals that are available we often hear the terms Conflict or blood diamonds but now we see the real cost of ripping the heart of Africa out. What fills the vacuum of a lawless world where Police and state have failed well the characters in this book and who else well are two lead characters.

There are cities which don’t need literature: they are literature. They files past, chest thrust out, head on their shoulders. They are proud and full of confidence despite the garbage bags they cart around. The city-state, an example among so many others – she pulsated with literature.

“I love you, baby”

“I don’t like foreplay, it kills the pleasure ”

“Do you have the time ?”

The city-state was written by her gigolos,her baby chicks, her diggers, her four star whore house, her dissident rebels ready to imprison you,her prospectors,her semi-tourist.Lucien rushwed into the nnight, his imitation-leather bag slung across his body.

I loved this chapter opening about the city of Lubumbashi the city state setting of the book .

The book has a poetic tone, I search for info about Fiston and found out he was a poet before he wrote this his first novel. The style of writing reminds me of how you may rift on styles there is many mentions of Jazz on the cover and in reviews, but for me this is more what great hip hop does and that is rift on everything the heart of Congo music is Soukous, those string lead rifts of singers like Pape Wemba, I picture the kids of Fiston generations drawing on this to make it the heart of their hip hop and maybe Fiston is drawing on this himself the soulful voice of Soukos through modern artist like Werrason has become a voice of modern DR Congo. I also have never fully got Jazz.

DR congo fiction

Translator – Roland Glasser

Source – Review copy

Have you a favourite African book set during a civil war ?

 

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