November 2015
Fiston Mwanza MujilaIn

In the bowels of a city-country

By CATHERINE FAYE
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There’s something unexpected about him. Like an austere doorway that opens onto an orgiastic Eden, or an apocalyptic scene. The tree that hides the forest. Understated with dulcet tones, Fiston Mwanza Mujila doesn’t give much away. But behind his tender, measured and rhythmic way with words, his first novel, “Tram 83”, is a bubbling fresco, where his heroes begin a dizzying journey. In the course of the story “ducklings” (young prostitutes), “for-profit tourists” (foreign businessmen) and other “(gold) diggers” literally come to get drunk in the aptly named Tram 83, a bar-brothel located in the bowels of a “city-country” — as he likes to call it —, a Cerberus-like gatekeeper city inspired by both Lubumbashi where he was born, Kinshasa and Mbuji-Mayi, where parents are from.

At 34, this lover of language, jazz, waltz and Congolese rumba, writes one-of-a-kind fiction that is unanimously acclaimed by the critics. It’s the breakneck rhythm of his style, like a drum roll, or a train moving off that make him stand out on the current literary scene. There’s a touch of the Céline, Jorge Amado and Cendrars about this hyper creative writer — there’s a skilful alchemy between the absurdity of the world, sensual pleasure and adventure. He started writing poetry as a teenager, sharpening his sense of rhythm to the sound of John Coltrane’s saxophone. Since then the novellas, plays and collections of poems from this gold medal winner for Literature at the XV Jeux de la Francophonie (Francophone Games) are linked together by themes in a blur of images and scenes where an outrageous Africa burst forth. “Art is a kind of personal archaeology”, he says. “Why not tap into the inexhaustible seam of oral literature, speak from the gut, the heart, expurgate, lay it on the line and construct the text?” Originality is not invented. It lies beneath meaning.

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