Diamonds, sex and rock & roll. Well at the very least, jazz, salsa and Congolese rumba, are what comes to mind about the debut novel of the Congolese writer and poet Fiston Mwanza Mujila. Tram 83 is an exhilarating tale of a place and its people.
A bar/ nightclub/ bordello, somewhere in Africa, in a City-State with a dissident General, presumably in DRC in which all the social classes collide and coexist. From the hookers, the students, the diamond /copper/ cobalt miners, the” baby chicks” to the rich, the “For-profit-tourists”, the” Chinese tourists” and even Pentecostal preachers. Tram 83 is a place where everyone meets. In the midst of all this, arrives Lucien, a wannabe writer whose ideals clash with the new reality of the world he lives in, a debauched and wretched city where all morals went to perdition to satisfy the needs of the belly and the under belly.
Fiston Mwanza Mujila deploys the world of the Tram 83 breathtakingly, with a daring and sometimes shocking and confusing style. The text is steeped with music, be it Jazz, rumba, salsa, classical music, ndombolo, merengue or coupe decale which adds to the style. Tram 83 can be read as a satire of the policies, politics and morals of a place in which the exploitation of minerals leaves the locals in dire poverty, but it is also a celebration of life, the life that must be lived, clinging to the last shred if dignity.
The Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou, who prefaced the book, has described Tram 83 as a masterpiece, and I for one could not agree more. The only reserve that can be expressed is that sometimes the translation feels a bit clumsy, but setting out to translate a piece like Tram 83 with its unique style is not a small task. Originally published in French in 2014, Tram 83 won the Etisalat Prize for Literature in 2015 and was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2016. Fiston Mwanza Mujila is definitely one of the rising stars to watch out for in contemporary African literature.
Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila
Translated by Rolland Glasser
WILFRIED KWYN MANGA