“There are certain books you read in sobriety, and Tram 83 is not one of them.”
That was my tweet, barely halfway into reading this book. “Tram 83” is an experimental fiction piece by Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Translated from French by Roland Glasser.) If you placed, in a pot, a dash of poetry, some teaspoons of insanity, spice it up with lots of sex, prostitution, curse words, alcohol and a little bit of rat poison to taste, then you would have created Tram 83.
It all began at the station whose metal structure was unfinished.
“Men and winds have this in common: neither have their feet on the ground. Nomads, they come and go like the pain of shattered love, nervous tension, independencies, wars of liberation, the urgent need to defecate in the stairwell of a building between two blackouts.”
Lucien, a historian and something of a failed writer, arrives from the Back-Country, to meet his friend (but not friend) Requiem in an attempt to run away from his unsavory past. They stay in Vampire Town and this is where Tram 83 is situated. Tram 83 is a popular restaurant/ hooker bar. Every corner is a promise of sex from the stern and resolute single-mamas to the over-zealous under-aged baby-chicks and even the slim-jims.
“Do you have the time?” their solicitations scream.
A large sign on the Tram’s frontage reads: “Entry inadvisable for the poor, the wretched, the uncircumcised, historians, archaeologists, cowards, psychologists, cheapskates, morons, the insolvent, and all of you unlucky enough to be under fourteen, not forgetting the elected members of the twelfth house, penniless diggers, sadistic students, politicians of the second republic, historians, know-it-alls, and snitches.”
This is where Lucien’s friend, Requiem, takes him. It is also where most of the story of the book unfolds.
Lucien who had just recently disappointed his publisher, carries a note where he writes everything about the Tram – from the sex workers and their incessant calls, to the madness of the suicidals, the anxiety of the tourists, the girls and the size of their breasts. In that madness, he meets a new publisher who gives him a chance that he soon loses. First, to the people of the Tram who believe he is a pretender because of his upstanding ways and beat him to a pulp. And next, to Requiem, the master manipulator and thief who, when money became involved, reminded Lucien of their terrible history.
Hope Mine is the source of the City-State’s wealth – and also its misery. All activity revolves around the stone – mining for diamonds, copper, amongst other things that are owned by the dissident general who governs the City State. On one of the forced visits to the mine by Requiem, Lucien gets caught and imprisoned principally because of his refusal to bribe officials on account of his hatred for “informing corruption.”
All things eventually work well for Lucien and his publisher friend from Tram 83 who too had been a victim of Requiem’s evil deeds, but not after they pay the price. Needless to say, the Tram is where dreams do come true right after they are dashed and broken beyond repair.
The most amazing thing about this book is its stylistic writing style that shifts from the narrative storytelling of the book to a more vivid – and largely imbalanced structure – that I can only call ‘free talk.’ This comes as both a flaw and a kind of excitement depending on your frame of mind at the time of reading it. Also, its portrayal of sex and female sex workers is something that has been rightly described as misogynist by a few critics. Tram 83 is the author’s debut novel and it won the 2015 Etisalat Prize for literature.
If you have anything against sexual banters and the mention of basically any form of ‘uncleanliness’, then you might want to skip this one. Recommended only if you’re looking for something experimental.
I rate it a 3.5 out of 5.
Read it? Give it your own rating below.
Get a copy of this on Amazon.
About the Author
Fiston Nasser Mwanza Mujila (born 1981, in Lubumbashi) is a Congolese writer. He lives in Graz, Austria, where he teaches African literature (Wikipedia)