Translated from the French by Roland Glasser
Winner of the Etisalat Prize for Debut African Fiction 2015
Winner of a French Voices Award
An exceptional debut Congolese novel, Tram 83 uses jazz rhythms to evoke the frenzied exploitation of land and people in contemporary Africa.
Publication Date: September 8, 2015
"An exuberantly dark first novel." —NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross
Two friends, one a budding writer home from abroad, the other an ambitious racketeer, meet in the most notorious nightclub—Tram 83—in a war-torn city-state in secession, surrounded by profit-seekers of all languages and nationalities. Tram 83 plunges the reader into the modern African gold rush as cynical as it is comic and colorfully exotic, using jazz rhythms to weave a tale of human relationships in a world that has become a global village.
Fiston Mwanza Mujila was born in 1981 in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, where he went to a catholic school before studying Literature and Human Sciences at Lubumbashi University. He now lives in Graz, Austria, and is pursuing a PHD in Romance Languages. His writing has been awarded with numerous prizes, including the Gold Medal at the 6th Jeux de la Francophonie in Beirut as well as the Best Text for Theater (“Preis für das beste Stück,” State Theater, Mainz) in 2010. His poems, prose works and plays are reactions to the political turbulence that has come in the wake of the independence of the Congo and its effect on day-to-day life. His texts describe, as he says in one of his poems, a "geography of hunger": hunger for peace, freedom, and bread. His texts have been published in the original French and in translation in many journals and anthologies in several European countries, and he has been performing at readings and festivals since 2002. Tram 83, written in French and published in August 2014 as a lead title of the "rentrée litteraire" by Éditions Métailié, is his first novel and has been shortlisted and won numerous literary prizes in France and Austria, a French Voices Prize from the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the US, and has already been translated into eight languages.
Roland Glasser, a French to English translator, editor, and writer, studied French and Theatre Studies at Aberystwyth University (Wales), Film and Dramatic Arts at the University of Caen (Normandy) and Advanced Theatre Practice at The Central School of Speech and Drama (London). Glasser spent a decade living in Paris, where he developed a successful career in translation, literary editing, and lighting design, while gaining extensive experience as a performer, dramaturg, producer, writer and photographer. Currently based in London, Glasser works with a wide range of international clients and collaborators in translation and theater.
Winner of the Etisalat Prize for Debut African Fiction 2015
Nominated for the Man Booker International Prize 2016
Winner of a French Voices Award
One of Flavorwire's 33 Must-Read Books for Fall 2015
"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.' . . . Mujila succeeds in exploring themes of globalization and exploitation in a kinetic, engaging work." —Publishers Weekly
"Mujila has turned out a multiaward-winning debut that’s decidedly cool and juicy. . . . The writing, which has all the edgy darkness of the best street lit, sometimes mimics the bar’s background jazz in its syncopation and the occasional quick-burst, broken-sentence, run-on format, with the bar regulars feeling like a Greek chorus." —Library Journal (Starred Review)
"If his portrait of Congo makes it appear socially and politically hopeless, what's hopeful is the spirit of his writing, which crackles and leaps with energy. Rather than moralize, he transfigures harsh reality with a bounding, inventive, bebop-style prose, translated from the French with light-footed skill by Roland Glasser." —John Powers, NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross
"Stylistically quirky and unorthodox fiction from Africa...Tram 83 is the locus of those driven by ambition, desire, greed, or pleasure—and in this underworld we meet quite a cast of characters." —Kirkus Reviews
“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.” —James Smart, The Guardian
“If it wasn’t necessary to hold a book steady while reading, Tram 83 would be a text for dancing . . . The novel is remarkable in its freshness. If much of contemporary western literature aspires toward the sharp, focused imagery that evokes film, then Tram 83 is a novel of the stage…” —M. Lynx Qualey, The National
"Mujila employs the logic of poetry – to evoke a febrile eternal present. It's bustling, strange experimental fiction in which the chaos of daily life leaks like blood from the iron fist of violence and profit." —Cameron Woodhead, Sydney Morning Herald (Pick of the Week)
"With echoes of Flannery O’Connor, Ralph Ellison, and Joseph Conrad, Mujila’s language alchemizes epic poetry from violence, despair and distraction. He bebops in broken time with words and structure, improvising and free-associating." —Michelle Newby, The Rumpus
"As a meditation or debauch on the nothing that is left behind when everything falls apart, Tram 83 is a literary manifesto, or at least a literary revelation. Its ambition has to be seen in the context of African literature’s predicament: if African literature is in need of saving—as critics regularly contend that it is—then this might be a book you could turn to as salvation." —Aaron Bady, Guernica
"Mujila's writing is at once quirky and dark, frenetic and melodic. Some passages seem pulled out of a somewhat comedic noir novel while others rival David Foster Wallace's best paragraphs, both in complexity and length. . . . Tram 83, while a novel about Africa, is also a novel about the world and a text that perfectly exemplifies the global village imagined by philosopher and communication theorist Marshall McLuhan; a place where travel and technology contribute to bringing the world together in a physical, as well as a cultural, way." —Gabino Iglesias, The Collagist
"Tram 83 is political commentary in haute creative form...the novel comes to you vividly as a melange of spoken word and lisapo in the form of Congolese oral tradition, as though you are sat around a fire in the quiet night listening to the seasoned voice of the village elder as the embers flicker into the air and paints the scenes before your eyes. Tram 83 is the harmony of Papa Wemba, the rhythm of Franco Luambo and the art of Eddy Kamounga Ilunga in literary form; you cannot help but either be arrested or moved by it. It resonates so deeply with Patrice Lumumba’s message and that of lipanda (independence); write your own story. The independence of Congo was not just a political move, but also one relating to its culture, creativity and arts. To write your story and celebrate your artists is to crystallise the experience of a generation so that it may be passed on to the next, and never be forgotten or taken away as it once was. It is an act of self-determination, a discovery of self, which we are beginning to see once again in its finest form." —JJ Bola, poet and author of WORD
"Loud and garish, Tram 83 pushes towards overwhelming the senses. . . . 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." —Michael Orthofer, The Complete Review
In the labyrinths of the City-State, you don’t listen to jazz to get a whiff of sugar cane or reconnect with Negro consciousness or savor the beauty of the notes: you listen to jazz because you have to listen jazz when you make your bed on banknotes, when you deliver your merchandise daily, when you manage an extraction plant, when you’re cousin to the dissident General, when you keep a little mistress who pins you to your bed in a dizzy haze. Jazz is a sign of nobility, it’s the music of the rich and the newly rich, of those who build this beautiful broken world. Such people don’t listen to rumba, which they find dirty, primitive, and unfit for the ear. Between rumba and jazz lies an ocean, they say. You don’t listen to jazz the way you’d fling yourself into a Zairian-spiced rumba. Jazz is above all a precipitous slope, a cliff you can only climb if you possess a notion of its origins, its development, its major figures. Jazz is no longer the story of the Negroes. Only tourists and those who master money know the foundations of this music. It’s the only identification for a certain bourgeoisie, the bourgeoisie of the eleventh hour. Consequently, when the musicians get jazzing, all of Tram 83 stirs from its sleeping sickness. The slightest saxophone, and it’s the great masquerade. The diggers and the students adopt the manner of the tourists. They watch, smile, raise their beer glasses, walk, blaze a trail to the dance floor, hail the waitresses and busgirls in the manner of the tourists, take on the haughty bearing of samurai, the gestures and attitudes of a Maharaja, the poise of the Dalai Lama. The honeys, the waitresses, and the busgirls don’t let themselves be brow-beaten. Smiles like the Queen of England, they mime imaginary empresses. Jazz is the only lever used by all the riffraff of Tram 83 to switch social class as one would subway cars.