A Symphony of Suffering

Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila focus on the everyday lives of two men, Lucien and Requiem, trying to survive in a fictional country inspired by Mujila’s home country, Democratic Republic of Congo. Lucien tries to make a living as a professional writer while it is assumed that Requiem is involved in some shady business involving pimping out baby-chicks and blackmailing tourists.

The juxtaposition of the way that these two men, born into the same station of life, go about finding a meaning and purpose is very much a social commentary that Mujila makes. In regard to the future of Africa, it seems that there are two positions:

  1. You could be like Lucien who sees a life of possibility for Africa with the help of education and the creation positive economic and social programs.
  2. You could side with Requiem who is prepared to live his life as if Africa is beyond redemption already. Requiem pessimistically observes, “The tragedy is already written. We merely preface it” (Mujila 111). 

Sadly, it seems that most tourists, politicians, and average Americans take Requiem’s stance. 

This novel is written much like a jazz musical score. As the reader, it is not necessary that you are aware of every note and nuance of the plot line. What is more important is that you listen to the overarching themes woven into the narrative of the story such as: belly politics, incompleteness, and the train as a metaphor.

Just like how a jazz piece must have instruments, Mujila sets the stage with a variety of different characters that make up the composition of the novel.  Jazz is such a key image in Tram 83 that an alternate cover of the book is illustrates this diverse cast of characters.

Image result for tram 83

While some may view jazz as a beautiful and beloved genre of music, Mujila paints a different picture of jazz as a metaphor for the suffering of his people. In the opening pages he writes:

“In 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 to jazz when you make your bed on banknotes, when you deliver your merchandise daily, when you manage an extraction plant, when your cousin to dissident General, when you keep a little mistress who pins you to your bed in a dizzy haze” (Mujila 11).

He asserts that the jazz music which fills the city and Tram 83 is what connects all walks of life together. However, this is all because their country and economy is continuously exploited by the structures put in place by foreigners aiming to capitalize on the rich mineral reserves that the city-state has to offer.

More subtly, Mujila creates musical effects through words and rhythm of the language he uses. Phrases like, “Do you have the time?” and “”The station whose metal structure was unfinished…” are prevalent all throughout the novel. These tremolos pronounce prominent overtones of post colonialism and the constant power struggle that exists in this world in order to stay alive. Image result for tremolo                                             Example of a tremolo in music

Jazz was not born out of just one time, place, or person. Similarly, not just one variable is to blame for how the DRC became so corrupt, impoverished, violent, and exploited. However, like jazz, Mujila artfully depicts that Africa can be continuously reborn in a moment.

 

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