Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila, translated from the French by Roland Glasser (Deep Vellum, 210 pages, September 8)
I read Tram 83 in one sitting, and I think that this is the best way to experience it (if possible).
Why? Because the swirling, kaleidoscopic, jazzy, crude, and hyper atmosphere of the novel is best appreciated through complete immersion. This story of Lucien (a writer trying to hold on to some utopian vision of art) and Requiem (a gangster and trafficker who clings to his power over the debauched world of a fictional separatist African city) offers us a vision of modern colonialism and the devastating cycle of war after war of liberation that has gripped nations across the African continent for over a century.
Mujila himself hails from Democratic Republic of Congo, and Tram 83 is his first (and already award-winning) novel. We see his exploration of literary ideals clashing with the mundane, even grotesque, necessities of daily life in a city that has become unmoored from a state and a history. It is Tram 83, the city's most infamous nightclub, that acts as a gathering place for prostitutes, criminals, tourists, soldiers, and others. Here Lucien comes night after night, sometimes with his friend/sworn enemy Requiem, sometimes with his would-be publisher Malingeau, and each time he writes down snatches of prose that capture the whirlwind, wild nature of this uninhibited place.
While Requiem advocates breaking from the past and pursuing the freedom that the future promises, Lucien believes in gripping the past with both hands, the better to rearrange and transform it through art. After all, Napoleon and Columbus didn't even inhabit the same century, but Lucien has no trouble throwing them together in his work.
But above all, it is the profiteering tourists who, together with corrupt politicians, exploit the diamond mines and suck out the wealth that they offer. Thus money, corruption, and sexual abandon characterize the nightclub where everyone who seeks prosperity gathers. Tram 83 is the petri dish and Mujila is the scientist peering through a microscope at the chaotic and carnivalesque results of this gathering.
My advice to you: read Tram 83. You'll be glad you did.