The River in the Belly

The River in the Belly

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By Fiston Mwanza Mujila 

Translated by Bret Maney

Blending lyricism, humor, spirituality, and the history of the poet’s family and nation, the widely-acclaimed author of Tram 83 reckons with the Congo River and his homeland in his debut collection of poetry in English.

Publication Date: July 20, 2021

Paperback: 9781646050673

eBook:  9781646050680 


Award-winning Congolese author Fiston Mwanza Mujila returns to the Deep Vellum catalog with a poetry book, seeking through metaphor and lyric to reckon with the contested nationhood of Mwanza Mujila’s native country.

Drawing from works from his entire poetic oeuvre, including the renowned Kasala PoemsThe River in The Belly was originally written as part of a multi-disciplinary work of poetry, music, video, and dance performed in Europe in 2019. The title collection shows the Congo River as it runs in real life and through Mwanza Mujila’s body and mind; he contemplates the importance of the majestic, sacred Congo River and the decades of upheaval the Democratic Republic of Congo has gone through, in turns berating and serenading his homeland. This bittersweet, ambitious collection, in the words of translator J. Bret Maney, “does no less than seek to reinitiate the Congo River in the imaginary of European languages.”

Biographical Note

Fiston Mwanza Mujila's writing foregrounds its debt to jazz, responds to political turbulence in his native country and its effects on everyday life, and displays an often incandescent, improvisatory verbal energy, replete with bouts of irreverent humor and surprising tonal shifts. He is the recipient of many literary prizes, including, most recently, the Peter-Rosegger-Literaturpreis (Austria, 2018). He is the author of Tram 83, published in English in 2015 by Deep Vellum; winner of the German International Literature award and long-listed for the International Man Booker and the Prix du Monde. Mujila was born in 1981 in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, and now lives in Graz, Austria. 

Bret Maney is an assistant professor of English at Lehman College, CUNY. He earned a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Pennsylvania and has worked as a translator from the French and Spanish since 2005. Before starting graduate school, Maney founded and ran the Talking World translation agency. His translation of Manhattan Tropics has been honored by the Ezra Pound Prize for Literary Translation, a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant, and a Commendation in the Gulf Coast Translation Prize.


“With dark, picaresque humor and faith in the power of chant, this notebook of counter-songs confronts the death drive of capitalism and chances to chart a 'cartography of violence' with a matter-of-factness that is the other side of love. The translator J. Bret Maney renders all this in a language as vital and musical as it is precise...and with a performative élan that feels like something special: solidarity, perhaps.” — Urayoán Noel, judge for The 2020 Gulf Coast Prize in Translation

Praise for Tram 83

Winner of the Etisalat Prize for Debut African Fiction 2015

Nominated for the Man Booker International Prize 2016

Winner of a French Voices Award 

"An exuberantly dark first novel . . . Evoking everyone from Brueghel to Henry Miller to Celine, Fiston plunges us into a world so anarchic it would leave even Ted Cruz begging for more government.” NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, John Powers 

“A high-velocity debut . . . The writing has the pulsing, staccato rhythms of Beat poetry and Roland Glasser has exuberantly harnessed that energy in his translation from the French.” —“A high-velocity debut . . . The writing has the pulsing, staccato rhythms of Beat poetry and Roland Glasser has exuberantly harnessed that energy in his translation from the French.”Wall Street Journal, Sam Sacks  

“At once a grim account of neocolonialism and a comic tale of late-night urban mayhem, this vigorous, hip and brilliant work takes a while to warm up but ends up gripping like a vice.” The Guardian, James Smart

“In this visceral, fast-paced debut novel, acclaimed Congolese poet Mujila examines life in a central African state plagued by instability. . . . Rapid and poetic, Mujila depicts a province where “every day is a pitched battle.” . . . The central characters fight to change the paths laid before them, desperate to rebel against a fate imposed by life in a consumptive environment. Mujila succeeds in exploring themes of globalization and exploitation in a kinetic, engaging work.” —Publishers Weekly