mourn·ful ˈmôrnfəl/ Adjective Submit adjective feeling, expressing, or inducing sadness, regret, or grief.

Grabfigur auf dem Friedhof

If you didn’t understand the meaning of the book by page 180, Fiston Mwanza Mujila gives the reader a formal hint at his message on the very next page.

Flipping through the book for the first time when I bought it, something caught my eye that I had never seen in any form of literature before, and it’s one of the boldest authorial calls to ever grace the pages of history. And it worked. Nearly one full page of text that consists of a single word: Mournful.

The Diva, who was playing the role of a woman, against a background of prerecorded sounds, unreeled a song, long and mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful…(x80), and at the same time celestial (Mujila 181).

Following by describing the tram as “a convulsion of incompleteness” and a place with “time’s wasting, the thirst for archeology, solitude,” ushers in an understanding of the fictional tram that might not have been grasped before.

What could be Mujila’s reason for filling an entire page with the word “mournful” when describing a song sung in the tram? Well, it’s meant to be read aloud, or at least word-by-word in one’s head. Repeating the word for the eighty times it appears cannot fail to inspire a monotonous dread in your mind, a sense of waiting for it to be over, waiting to break free from an oppressive sadness. That is exactly Mujila’s purpose, to imbue the sense of helplessness and abandonment in your mind when you try to comprehend the situation of a place that has been truly left to rot in its own perversion. The people of the tram starve for meaning in life, or at least they would if their lives weren’t stricken with an impoverished plague of carelessness and prostitutes.

In reading his repetition of the word “mournful,” we are supposed to understand the minds of the colonized. The poor, underexposed and underpriveleged lives withering away at the hand of injustice. And from that, we may yet understand more about the people not given the same privileges as us.


A Godless Place With Godless Times

Rape, drunkenness, murder, discrimination, prostitution, impulse, selfishness, insanity. What hope is left to a world abandoned by God, the only thing the people have left to turn to? What reason could Fiston Mwanza Mujila have for seemingly randomly inserting bible verses into his action scenes, some of which don’t even exist?


In the novel, Tram 83, Mujila uses the inclusion of bible verses in one particular action scene that are scattered and disorganized…but not completely. This is done to emphasize the truly God-ridden society of a place ransacked by amorality. Our protagonist, Lucian, a guarder of his precious merchandise, is on a trip near the scandalous Tram 83 when he’s held at knifepoint by a group of thugs ready to end his life.

“If you want us to spare your life, tell us where you’ve stashed the merchandise…” They came closer, pulling out their arsenal of daggers, knives, bayonets, slingshots, screwdrivers.
Letter of Apostles, chapter 5

Letter of Apostles, chapter 5 tells the story of jealous priests who imprison a group of apostles for unlawful reasons, but God sets them free. This directly correlates to the next part of the book where Lucian is imprisoned, but offered to be set free if he offers his sisters to the jailer as prostitutes. A holy deed has become a selfish, illegal, deviant bribe for a corrupt governmental employee. The contrast is striking, showing how far the world of Tram 83 has strayed from the light of God

“Take that.”
He took.
Follow us.”
Ephesians 10.
“The bastard.”
The dogs continued to bark.
Luke 2:17
The dogs…
Revelation 30

With the knowledge that the author, or Lucian however the reader chooses to interpret the narration, is aware of specific bible stories, including one that doesn’t exist (Revelation 30) begs the question: Why?

Mujila includes the frantic prayer in a time of stress as a metaphor for not only the absence of God in this city, but the illiteracy of its people and their indifference to religion. The people of Tram 83 are uneducated and uncivilized, rowdy and individual, and Mujila is commenting on the fact that some type of order, in this case religion, is necessary for a people to function in cohesion and community. Otherwise, they cling to what they wish they knew, spewing out futile prayers at the point of a knife being robbed for the little that they’re worth.

Being in support of or against religion makes no difference, anyone can understand and learn from Mujila’s deliberate decisions of including scripture in his text. He teaches us that wandering from virtue and order leads us down a grimy path of pickpockets and prostitutes, and not to be surprised when God turns his back on you.

How to Normalize Sexual Assault: Step 1) Be Us. Step 2) See Step One.

When our leader speaks testament that Mexicans are rapists, it’s difficult as Americans to stray from that persona in the eyes of other nationalities despite our own personal beliefs. However, American citizens have some housekeeping to take care of ourselves before we go around pointing the rapist finger. Our societal attitudes toward women, namely young women, is an absolutely repulsive and disgraceful problem that we only dig ourselves deeper into when we accuse others of the same deed.


Cartoon by Tony Auth, Philadelphia Inquirer.

In Signs Preceding the End of the World, Mexican author Yuri Herrera paints his rendition of the American man who he calls “Mr. P.” Mr. P is described as a man with “blazing blond hair. . . streaked with orange highlights, he held a cigar in one hand and wore mirrored shades” (61). His character does earn some leeway as he is a crime boss, but in comparison to the three other Mexican crime bosses who treat the main character, Makina, with respect, Mr. P fills the frame of a complete child predator, revealing a deep insight into the outside world’s view of America as a culture in comparison to Mexico.
“‘Wouldn’t you like to come work for me, child?’ asked Mr. P, eyeing her crotch” (62)                                                                                                                                                                  Disgusting. The author establishes that Mr. P sees Makina as a child, which doesn’t even falter him from staring directly at her crotch, dehumanizing and objectifying not only a person, but a child. Mr. P goes on to stroke his “long, thin knife” and “pat it nonstop” (61) during his interaction with Makina, reinforcing his shameless view of her as a sexual object. While this image is shocking and appalling to anyone with a moral conscience, it’s not far from the truth. American media and popular culture glorifies the bodies and self-absent young women in all reaches of entertainment, and even politically when rape victims are blamed for the tragedy that befell them.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   The problem of rape culture has deep roots that can only be ripped from the ground by hands willing to accept our fault instead of accusing other nations in blind arrogance. Perhaps if Herrera’s message was read by more Americans, we’d stop thinking ourselves as pristine as he argues we are morally unsound.


rape 2

posted by Mikhaela Reid

What Really Gets “Lost” in Translation

I’m a writer. And as a writer, my job is to get you to understand exactly what I mean exactly the way I mean it without you so much as hearing my real voice, or me getting the chance to explain something if you have a question. Doing that in a language that I presume we both speak (English) is hard enough, but now imagine if I only spoke French and I had to have someone interpret my writing and explain it to you in the same amount of lines without any room for explanation. Sucks, doesn’t it?  language-barrier
Image from
Well, in fact, I do speak fluent French, along with Futhark and I’m learning Spanish as my fourth language for this exact reason. In Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, a book by Eliot Weinberger that consists of a plethora of translations, (nineteen if you could believe it), of the same Chinese poem by Wang Wei, the author discusses and criticizes each minute change of diction between the translations. The poem in its original script is only twenty characters, but when it goes through the process of translation, those characters are left up to personal interpretation. For instance, the first character of the poem which directly means “empty,” is translated by the very first two readings as “lone” (8) and “no one.” (10). This is a theme that runs consistent throughout the rest of the translated interpretations.

Even the simplest of change in words that might share a common meaning can spin an entirely different story in a reader’s mind. “Sunlight, entering a grove,” (10) offers a radically different sensation to a reader than, “Sunlight pierces the deep forest,” (20), and as a translator, there is no way around making that distinction from another translator.

It is for this reason that as much as we’d like to think that words mean the same thing from mouth to mouth, as it would sure make understanding literature a whole lot easier, they don’t, especially when translated through opposing languages. So while nothing may be “lost” in the process, a whole new experience is surely created, and regardless, that’s something to value.