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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Tram 83

Fiston Mwanza Mujila

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To purchase Tram 83

Title: Tram 83
Author: Fiston Mwanza Mujila
Genre: Novel
Written: 2014 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 188 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Tram 83 - US
Tram 83 - UK
Tram 83 - Canada
Tram 83 - Canada (French)
Tram 83 - India
Tram 83 - France
  • French title: Tram 83
  • Translated by Roland Glasser
  • With a Foreword by Alain Mabanckou

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Our Assessment:

B+ : impressively frenetic

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 13/11/2015 Mark Thomas
Le Devoir . 6/9/2014 Lise Gauvin
L'Humanité . 4/9/2014 Muriel Steinmetz
Publishers Weekly . 27/7/2015 .
Le Temps . 15/11/2014 Isabelle Rüf
TLS . 20/11/2015 Michael LaPointe
Wall St. Journal . 11/9/2015 Sam Sacks

  From the Reviews:
  • "Its story is spiky, quirky and edgy. (...) It may not be deemed technically possible for an author to be too enveloped or enthralled by his subject. Nonetheless, in Tram 83 there might occasionally be a bit too much information, on arcana like the socio-economic distinctions between jazz and rumba, archaisms in tipping, or the predominance of Brazilian buttocks among prostitutes." - Mark Thomas, The Age

  • "Ce premier roman, fertile en énumérations et en listes de toutes sortes, n'échappe pas à un certain éparpillement de l'intrigue qui, à la longue, finit par lasser. (...) Tram 83 présente une vision postexotique de l’Afrique contemporaine, entre rêve et cauchemar, là où les espoirs s’abîment dans les filets d’une corruption inextricable" - Lise Gauvin, Le Devoir

  • "Amateur de jazz, de poésie, de théâtre et de peinture, Fiston Mwanza Mujila excelle à peindre et donne à entendre et voir les tonalités, les rythmes et les couleurs d’un effroyable chaos, dans un magma sans espace et sans durée autre que celle de la nuit en cours. L’invention littéraire dans un idiome français constamment rudoyé rend parfaitement compte de l’urgence de vivre d’êtres jeunes juste avant de disparaître." - Muriel Steinmetz, L'Humanité

  • "In this visceral, fast-paced debut novel, acclaimed Congolese poet Mujila examines life in a central African state plagued by instability. (...) Mujila succeeds in exploring themes of globalization and exploitation in a kinetic, engaging work" - Publishers Weekly

  • "Ces vérités rebattues, Tram 83 les dit avec une verve, une inventivité, une faconde qui rappellent la virulence de Sony Labou Tansi. Fiston Mwanza Mujila n’hésite pas à avoir recours aux citations bibliques et aux pires jeux de mots: sa langue déchaînée rend superbement compte de la cacophonie des métropoles africaines." - Isabelle Rüf, Le Temps

  • "The writing has the pulsing, staccato rhythms of Beat poetry and Roland Glasser has exuberantly harnessed that energy in his translation from the French (.....) Early on, an acquaintance of Lucien’s laments the gloomy nature of most African novels. Tram 83 is an antidote. It doesn’t glamorize the ugliness, yet it’s alive to the thrill and abandonment of living for the moment and "satisfying the pleasures of the underbelly."" - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

  • "Incompletion characterizes every element of Tram 83: plotlines are picked up and dropped, characters are developed in one direction then suddenly another, and vital background information is gestured at but not explored. (...) Tram 83 seems to anticipate, and parody, its own critical reception, especially its accolades." - Michael LaPointe, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Tram 83 is set in a central/equatorial African locale simply called City-State, an "extremely wealthy and coveted province". Author Fiston Mwanza Mujila is from Lubumbashi, the second-largest city of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly also Zaïre) -- which, far from the nation's capital, Kinshasa, is a resource-rich driver of the national economy; Capital-State is clearly modeled on Lubumbashi (and the province of Katanga, of which it is the capital), with the rest of the DRC the largely hostile Back-Country. Yet even with a Kabila-like 'dissident General' as national leader and the nation described as one that has "been knocked flat, it's all got to be rebuilt", Tram 83 is only in part satire/allegory/warped depiction of the Congolese madness.
       The 'Tram 83 of the title is an even tighter focal point of location, the ultimate gathering place -- "All roads lead to Tram 83" --, and "one of the most popular restaurants and hooker bars" in town. (The name is taken from a Brussels (the DRC was once also the Belgian Congo ....) nights-only tram line that, amusingly, went out of service earlier this year.) The main characters are old friends Requiem and Lucien (so, yes, the novel is at some times more allegorically tinged than others, the names dripping with meaning, with Requiem a symbolic requiem for his nation, and 'Lucien' yet another modern counterpart to Balzac's protagonist of Lost Illusions). There's considerable history between them -- including a woman, Jacqueline -- and while Requiem has remained in City-State all this time Lucien, a would-be writer, returns for his the first time in many years.
       Lucien has grand literary ambitions:

It is by way of literature that I can reestablish the truth. I intend to piece together the memory of a country that exists only on paper. To fantasize about the City-State and the Back-Country with a view to exploring collective memory... Historical characters are my waymarks. But baby-chicks, diggers, famished students, tourists, and ...
       Lucien, who abandoned Marxism and has adapted to the eat-or-be-eaten mentality that rules the day is dismissive of Lucien's airy ambitions:
We need doctors, mechanics, carpenters, and garbage collectors, but certainly not dreamers.
       Mwanza Mujila suggests: "There's cities which don't need literature: they are literature", and City-State is, of course, presented as the perfect exemplar. Tram 83 is like the fantasia Lucien imagines, depicting the sordid, frantic clawing for money -- whether through mining (if not quite found on the streets, diamonds are plentiful enough for relatively easy -- albeit often very dangerous -- picking) or sex -- in near lawless conditions.
       The lawlessness -- there's essentially no police presence here, for example, or authorities of any sort -- is defining for the local chaos, where any semblance of order is maintained only on its own terms; here, again, Tram 83 serves as a reflection of the society at large. In fact, almost all sense of social compact has broken down, right down to the waitresses who are really in no hurry to serve their customers and resort to a variety of unpleasantness to extort tips. Even the relationship between Requiem and Lucien is quickly revealed as one that is not particularly friendly -- as, it turns out:
Requiem held Lucien responsible for everything: the rout of the government forces, his father's death, his mother's swift remarriage, his divorce from Jacqueline ...
       Requiem will resort to anything, even blackmail; Lucien clings to literature. But even if City-State "pulsated with literature", its denizens aren't readily receptive to it in unalloyed form. Lucien engages in considerable back and forth with a publisher who seems interested in his work, but always wants some changes -- first, a smaller cast of characters, but eventually more radical changes ("resubmit this same text to me but with the action taking place in Colombia ... FARC, the jungle, you see what I mean ..."). Predictably, too, a reading Lucien gives at Tram 83 does not go at all well .....
       Loud and garish, Tram 83 pushes towards overwhelming the senses. The Tram 83 locale lends itself to that: you can practically feel your thoughts drowned out by the chaos there, as Mwanza Mujila convincingly recreates that loud-bar-feel -- yet even as things often get out of control Tram 83 is also a place where a fairly strict order is occasionally imposed (as does Mwanza Mujila in his text, reining himself in where need be).
       In a nice musical touch -- in a novel that leans on musical elements -- , Mwanza Mujila uses refrains -- the repetition of phrases, notably: "Do you have the time ?" -- throughout the narrative. Similarly, the background figures of those baby-chicks, tourists, and workers effectively function like a kind of chorus.
       Playful, even with all its dark edges, Tram 83 is a different kind of modern urban novel -- City-State so alien and removed (it is very much a city apart) that much of this feels closer (especially in Mwanza Mujila's presentation) to dystopic science fiction than the usual gritty realism.
       Tram 83 is like a fine jazz album where the improvisations don't always pan out but with more than enough craft, gumption, and surprise to it to make for a memorable and satisfying experience.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 August 2015

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Tram 83: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       DRC Congolese author Fiston Mwanza Mujila was born in 1981.

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© 2015-2016 the complete review

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