Reading a book like Tram 83 definitely takes time to get used to.
Author Fiston Mwanza Mujila of the Democratic Republic of Congo explores the darkness of living in a mysterious city-state (independent country) in his novel Tram 83. He does so by giving us a glimpse of the lives of drastically different people who live in the same tragic conditions. On one hand we have Lucien, a writer who is trying to get his work published and on the other hand we have his “friend” Requiem, who seems to want to do everything in his power to stop Lucien from achieving his dreams. They congregate at Tram 83, a place of nightlife and sin, not unlike every seedy casino in Las Vegas.
On the surface this story comes off as some post-apocalyptic tragedy that gives no hope to its readers about the future of the characters and written in a way to intentionally confuse you and question what the hell is going on. I think this is why at times it becomes hard to read and follow the story but might also be the whole point.
Mujila writes in a style that when reading aloud sounds like conversations being overheard left and right. As Professor Baker, has mentioned, he is a “jazz writer.”He is not following the status quo of what most readers are used to. This change in pace is what makes this story stand out.
Throughout the novel we hear variations of the phrase “Do you have the time?” randomly thrown in in the middle of characters conversations. Again, this gives it the feel of literally being on a train and having people interrupt a story. At first it is a little unsettling and definitely needs time to get used to. However, the further you get along in the story the more you understand.
The characters in the story go through many difficult situations and its almost poetic how Mujila writes the dialogue that accompanies these dire situations. He lets his characters get sidetracked and explain different aspects of the city-state life that they live. At times it feels like someone is talking you and not really knowing where they are going with their words but want to give you all this information about their lives.
I think Mujila intentionally wrote the novel in this way to keep his readers on their toes. Throwing in phrases like “Long live Russian porn!” (37) and bible psalms (128) between dialogue can totally wake up a reader and question everything. Its fascinating trying to find the connections between words and the meaning behind them.
If you’re looking for a weird but informative read I would definitely hop on this crazy train.