Winning the English Pen Award and having your debut novel longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2016 is not a bad way to start your literary career.
Published in English by Jacaranda press, (the books’ original language is French), Tram 83 is a satirical and witty text, described quite accurately by one critic as “a crazy saxophone solo rising silently with the echo of the chorus” (Liberation).
Set in a Congolese mining district, where people from Congo and beyond, flock to make their fortune, author, Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s writing cleverly portrays the exploitation and neo-colonialism rampant in many African countries.
“In the beginning was the stone, and the stone prompted ownership, and ownership a rush, and the rush brought an influx of diverse appearance.”
The novel focuses on childhood friends Requiem and Lucien, one an intellectual with dreams of bettering the world with his writing, another an “entrepreneur” of kind, swindling his keep. Both are united by Tram 83, a bar that is the centre of the book, where you can find Jazz musicians, prostitutes, tourists, miners, students, aid workers and politicians, all in “in search of good times on the cheap.”
Mujila raises some very poignant points throughout this book, and although much of it is done with humour, the importance of the message is still apparent. For example, in one part, Requiem gathers a group to head to Hope Mine, the city produces so many minerals that the inhabitants have “dug up their gardens, their houses, their living rooms, their bathrooms, their bedrooms and even the cemetery” and consequently, “houses threatened to collapse at the slightest rain”. Quips like this are frequent throughout the novel, highlighting Mujila’s skilful writing.
In the foreword, novelist Alain Mabanckou has nothing but praise for Mujila’s writing, stating that “We will surely be following this exciting new voice in the years to come”, a statement I can fully back. Tram 83 is a cleverly written and important debut, with the accolades it has received unsurprising and worthy.