John Coltrane and Fiston Mwanza Mujila Walk Into a Bar: Jazz prose in Tram 83

If art is meant to imitate life, then Tram 83 is art imitating art—imitating life. The prose of Tram 83 imitates jazz music in its improvisational tone and jazz, an art form that is predominantly improvisational, imitates the often uncalculated and seemingly chaotic nature of our existence. This is an important stylistic element because it frames the story in ways immediately relatable to most readres. The style of prose Mujila uses—at the same time long winded, fragmented, and unconscious— mimics the musical styles of jazz and also the experiences of Lucien and Requiem. There is a thread found in the similarities of jazz and Mujila’s prose that connects the reader to the characters, the characters to the rhythm of the story, and the rhythm of the story back to the reader. In doing so, Mujila asks the reader to feel more connected to his characters, Lucien in particular. Improvisation as a literary device often manifests in a stream of conscious narrative and we have seen other authors, Joyce for example, employ this type of narrative as a way to suggest the fluidity of thought, and therefore of narrative text.

In jazz music we find aspects of musical fluidity much like its literary equivalent found in Tram 83. Mujila’s sentences are not rigid, they don’t have a set form, and they certainly are not neat or traditional in their formatting. The prose seems able to be one thing for a period of time and then a completely different thing altogether. Many sentences run on endlessly like when Lucien is describing Requiem’s alias’ (26). If jazz were made out of sentences, and it is really, then these would be those sentences. Jazz creates the feeling of having no definite beginning and no definite ending point—it resides in the now, without boundary or restraint. Often, it feels as if it might just go on infinitely. Essentially, both jazz and Tram 83 lack definitive structure. These structural elements, or lack of them, are important when we consider where the novel originates. Belgium and France colonized much of West Africa including the Democratic Republic of Congo, and although the DRC gained its independence in 1960, remnants of the colonizers oppression remained a staple of life in West and Central Africa. Mujila, a native of the Congo likely uses these techniques to challenge the colonial discourse he undoubtedly experienced as well as a more traditional authoritative narrative style. This is important because by doing so, he asks the reader again to examine more deeply the history of the novel’s setting and the context of its characters situations which in turn them to connect with the text more intimately.



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