Two friends, one a budding writer home from abroad, the other an ambitious racketeer, meet in the most notorious nightclub—Tram 83—in a war-torn city-state in secession, surrounded by profit-seekers of all languages and nationalities. Tram 83 plunges the reader into the modern African gold rush as cynical as it is comic and colorfully exotic, using jazz rhythms to weave a tale of human relationships in a world that has become a global village.
To match the rhythms and polyphonic noise of Tram 83, Mujila bends and cracks the language, producing a feverish Joycean prose that can be dizzying, wearying, and brilliant by turns. It’s always excessive: he wears out the language, and the language wears you out ... Set in a nightmarish wet-dream of a 'hooker-bar' nightclub, Tram 83 can seem like a novel about fucking and music and precisely nothing else ... as a meditation or debauch on the nothing that is left behind when everything falls apart, Tram 83 is a literary manifesto, or at least a literary revelation ... a wildly inventive and gleefully amoral farce, Tram 83 is also a deadly serious anatomy of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s mining frontier. It is political to its core, committed and 'relevant,' while also being a glorious mess and a lot of fun ... Elusive, intense, brief, and insubstantial, these moments of community, imagined and real, are the novel’s beating heart, the moments when shit turns to diamonds: buried under 50 years of disappointment, oppression, and struggle, weighed down by facts on the ground and watered with blood, Tram 83 is the paper on which the Congo continues to exist, the song of ourselves which Mujila sings and celebrates.
With echoes of Flannery O’Connor, Ralph Ellison, and Joseph Conrad, Mujila’s language alchemizes epic poetry from violence, despair and distraction. He bebops in broken time with words and structure, improvising and free-associating. Regularly interrupting the narrative with the constant cross-rhythm section of the club is an effective technique for communicating the prevailing cacophony ... Trains and train stations are prominent in Tram 83, signifying possibility and opportunity as well as globalization and the exploitation of the natural environment. Trains, too, are both protagonist and antagonist. Tram 83 ends, appropriately and ambiguously, where it began: at the train station. Mujila has found his groove.
Mujila has given a curious twist to a timeworn genre: Tram 83 is a picaresque novel in stasis, its hero waylaid by adventures he is constantly hoping to avoid. The language ranges from slangy to poignant, with philosophical asides and frequent pastiches of received ideas of Africa in the west. The digressions are the book’s strong point: an amputee’s confession of his daydreams of changing his life for that of a dog in Paris, with 'hospitals for dogs, casinos for dogs, weight rooms for dogs, and even dogs who go on vacation' is at once ribald and mortifying, and the characters’ offhand remarks about their pecuniary longings say a great deal about the emptiness of freedom in countries where material foundations are reserved for the moneyed and corrupt.