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TRAM 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila


by Fiston Mwanza Mujila ; translated by Roland Glasser

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-941920-04-6
Publisher: Deep Vellum

Stylistically quirky and unorthodox fiction from Africa.

Perhaps contrary to one’s expectations, the title refers not to a British streetcar but to a seedy nightclub in an unnamed African country referred to only as the City-State. 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. Gathering at this disreputable watering hole are “inadvertent musicians and elderly prostitutes and prestidigitators and Pentecostal preachers and students resembling mechanics and doctors conducting diagnoses in nightclubs and young journalists already retired and transvestites…”—and the list goes on for more than 40 entries. The women who go to Tram 83, all of whom “struggle fiercely against ageing,” range from the “baby-chicks” (younger than 16), the “single-mamas” (between 20 and 40), and the “ageless-women” (41 and older). Mujila also has a propensity for allegory, as is clear by the names he assigns those involved in the narrative. Lucien, an aspiring author, is one of the named characters, but more typical are types like the General, Mortal Combat, Requiem, and the Diva. While the novel has several narrative threads, Mujila is not working in the George Eliot tradition of realistic fiction. Instead, incidents lurch from one thing to another—sexual encounters to blackmail to the mineral-rich Hope mine. Much of the dialogue is repetitious and antiphonal, as recurring phrases such as "Do you have the time?" and "I hate foreplay" help create and define the atmosphere at the nightclub.

One’s admiration for the novel will be highly influenced by one’s tolerance for experimental, relatively plotless fiction.