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

By Fiston Mwanza Mujila
Translated from the French by Roland Glasser

An exceptional debut Congolese novel, Tram 83 uses jazz rhythms to evoke the frenzied exploitation of land and people in contemporary Africa.

“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.” — John Powers, NPR’s Fresh Air w/ Terry Gross

Published: September 8, 2015

Paperback: 9781941920046
Ebook: 9781941920053



Two friends, one a budding writer home abroad, the other an ambitious racketeer, meet in the only nightclub, the 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.

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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.


Nominated for the Man Booker International Prize 2016

Winner of the 2015 Etisalat Prize for Debut African Fiction

Winner of the Grand Prix SGDL du Premier Roman (for Debut Novel), 2014

Shortlisted for the Prix du Monde (Le Monde Literary Prize), 2014

Shortlisted for the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste, 2014

Recipient of the Literary Prize of the City of Graz, Austria, 2014

Recipient of a Golden Medal in Literature of the VI Jeux de la Francophonie in Beirut


One of Flavorwire’s 33 Must-Read Books for Fall 2015

“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 w/ Terry Gross

“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.” —Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

“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

“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

“Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s debut novel, a critique of neocolonialism featuring a cast of drunkards and dreamers, is the dazzling voice that DRC has been waiting for.” — 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)

“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)

“The prose is visceral, as sensuous and vivid as a live performance.” — Merin McDivitt, Michigan Daily

“Tram 83 is political commentary in haute creative form…[it] 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.” — poet JJ Bola for publisher Jacaranda Books

“Energetically written Congolese satire that goes dark and funny in its depiction of a city-state around a mine where everything and everybody is for sale, neoliberalism on full-blast.” — Jace Clayton (DJ Rupture), Dwarf + Giant

“Mujila’s novel is darkly comic, seemingly written to both ‘reestablish a truth’ that transcends African literature, while also playing with its tropes in a surreal mix of philosophy, friendship, and criminal exploitation.” — Daniel Haeusser, Reading 1000 Lives blog

“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

“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

“A frenetic writing style, like that of a jazz musician, gives this Africa-set novel an enthusiastic, adventurous energy . . . Tram 83 isn‘t for the faint of heart, but rather, it’s for those that have a sense of humor, an interest in seedy underbellies, and a willingness to, at times, feel a little lost in the haze of biblical imagery, flippant debauchery, free sex, and anarchy. Ezra Pound would be proud; Mujila ‘made it new.'” — Josh Cook, Foreword Reviews

“TRAM 83 reads like a modern, twisted The Great Gatsby . . . eccentric and somewhat disturbing, yet inclusive and universally appealing.” — Caitlin Thomas, Three Percent

“Relatively short, but consciously powerful, Tram 83 is one of those books that draws you in with the first note and carries you through every variation and improvisation before ejecting you with a last crescendo.” — Rachel Cordasco

“Already a post-modern classic; a unique and thrilling piece of work that captures the folly of humanity and your imagination.  Mujila has certainly made his mark on the world with this crazy, entertaining book.” — Book Lover’s Hangout

“Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s writing cleverly portrays the exploitation and neo-colonialism rampant in many African countries.” — Vanessa Thomas, Melan Mag