Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Villain's Dance

Fiston Mwanza Mujila

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Villain's Dance

Title: The Villain's Dance
Author: Fiston Mwanza Mujila
Genre: Novel
Written: 2020 (Eng. 2024)
Length: 275 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Villain's Dance - US
The Villain's Dance - UK
The Villain's Dance - Canada
La danse du vilain - Canada
La danse du vilain - France
Tanz der Teufel - Deutschland
La danza del bifolco - Italia
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Deep Vellum
  • French title: La danse du vilain
  • Translated by Roland Glasser

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : enjoyably rambunctious ensemble-piece

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Monde diplomatique . 10/2020 Hubert Artus
The NY Times Book Rev. . 18/2/2024 Anderson Tepper
Süddeutsche Zeitung . 8/6/2022 Jonathan Fischer

  From the Reviews:
  • "Comme il l’avait fait avec Tram 83, Mwanza Mujila met la fièvre dans une grande ville du pays. À ceci près : l’histoire a des ressorts plus politiques, plus dramatiques, plus ancrés dans le réel. Pour cette fiction de grande envergure, il joue d’une langue vivifiante, où s’affirme la beauté des « voyages clandestins » et des « transhumances déambulatoires » qu’offre la littérature." - Hubert Artus, Le Monde diplomatique

  • "The plots and vendettas zig and zag, eventually intersecting. Throughout, the voices of the children strike some of the book’s most compelling notes. (...) Mujila’s frenetic energy is captured in rapturous language by Roland Glasser, translating from the French. Recalling the gritty, exuberant novels of the South African Zakes Mda (Ways of Dying) and the Congolese Alain Mabanckou (African Psycho), Mujila has brought to life a feverish tale of Africa’s underclass, whose demands -- like the author’s -- are hard to resist." - Anderson Tepper, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Mujila springt zwischen den Perspektiven, erzählt mal in Ich-Form, mal wie ein jovialer allwissender Märchenonkel. Dass diese Brüche nicht stören, liegt an der Agilität und dem Charme seiner Sprache. (...) Wenn Mujila verhandelt, was Literatur im Chaos vermag, dann webt er in seine Aliasse jede Menge biografische Fußnoten. Und spricht en passant über die großen Themen des postkolonialen Afrika: vom Raubbau an den Bodenschätzen über die innerafrikanische Migration bis zur Allgegenwart der Korruption." - Jonathan Fischer, Süddeutsche Zeitung

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.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       The Villain's Dance is set in Fiston Mwanza Mujila's native Democratic Republic of Congo -- whereby, as he writes in an Author's Note, here: "Zaire is the name most befitting the atmosphere and the life stories of the characters in this text", with the story set during the waning years of Mobutu Sese Seko's (mis)rule. Mobuto's fall, and the coming of a new regime, do feature, but the larger political situation is mostly only background; so too, most of the action is far from the capital, taking place in Lubumbashi -- the capital of once-secessionist Katanga -- as well as across the border, in Angola.
       In fifty-four chapters -- presented with often long summarizing chapter-headings --, the novel shifts between several characters and their lives, with some overlap and then connection, the narratives also shifting between first and third person.
       Among the significant figures are the larger-than-life Tshiamuena -- "'I am the doyenne of humanity !' she screamed beneath the tropical sun of the quarry mines", a timeless figure who claims: "that she was born in 1885, 1882, 1876, and even -- when she'd got out of bed on the wrong side -- 1492" (and, also, that she was born in Japan, in the 1930s, as Fumie Ogawa), who eventually goes to seek her fortune in Angola, among the diamond-miners. There are also street kids Ngungi and Sanza, whose base is around the city Post Office, hustling for money in various ways and happy enough with their street life -- even if occasionally lifted out or away from it. There's Monsieur Guillaume -- a poetry lover, especially of (Srečko) Kosovel ("At your age, he'd already created a whole world" Monsieur Guillaume tells young Sanza) -- who works for the governmental DDD intelligence service and has a wide net of informers he relies on. And there is Austrian Franz Baumgartner, who became obsessed with Zaire and moved there, even taking on Zairean citizenship; Tshiamuena tries to get him to write her memoirs (he's unenthusiastic, despite the rich material: "with al due respect, I couldn't give a shit about your phantasmagoric tales") and he works on a novel.
       Much of local life revolves around music and nightlife -- and the 'Villain's Dance' of the title is the ultimate frenzy to lose oneself in: one dance-scene involving it it is described as: "A rapture verging on madness". And:

     There were two versions of the Villain's Dance. The longer one lasted an hour and thirty-seven minutes; the shorter one, eighteen minutes -- sometimes ten when the DJ was blasted on glue.
       There is a progression to the novel, a flow of action, including leading to the fall of the Mobuto regime, but the chapters -- not least in shifting focus among the characters -- offer distinct pictures and episodes, with Mwanza Mujila very strong on these different scenes-from-life, from street- and night-life in Lubumbashi to the diamond-mining frenzy in Angola. It can seem a somewhat odd fit of characters -- from Tshiamuena, whose story (or stories) are and go all over the place to the misfit Austrian (who, not least, gets hassled by the new-regime police when he identifies himself with his Zairean passport when Zaire no longer exists (when, of course, no new passports have been created by the new regime)) -- but they're quite well-drawn, making for an interesting ensemble.
       The coda to the novel is a poem, but there's a lyrical, musical feel to the prose -- and the action -- throughout, the novel thrumming both with poetry (from the echoes of Kosovel on) and music, with repeated crescendi of the Villain's Dance.
       Vivid, loud, and lively, The Villain's Dance is an engaging, rich, and affectionate portrait of that part of the world in those times.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 April 2024

- Return to top of the page -


The Villain's Dance: Reviews: Fiston Mwanza Mujila: Other books by Fiston Mwanza Mujila under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       DRC Congolese author Fiston Mwanza Mujila was born in 1981.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2024 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links