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A Brief Foray Into African Literature: Tram 83

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Seniors | Art & Culture

Nate, a Reference Staff member, continues his exploration of contemporary African Literature on the blog with a look at the DRC and a review of author Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s recent novel “Tram 83.”

One of the largest countries in Africa, the DRC opens eastwards from a spigot of land on the Atlantic Ocean, where the country is bordered to the north by the Republic of Congo and the south by Angola and the Congo river meets the Atlantic Ocean and progresses eastward increasing in latitudinal breadth, into central Africa, before coming to an end in the African Great Lakes region where it is bordered by the Central African Republic, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, South Sudan, Zambia and Tanzania.

This multitude of borders, access to the Atlantic Ocean, and being home to one of the continent’s largest rivers has impacted the DRC’s history in a variety of ways. Initially colonized by Belgium, and administered by the county’s sovereign, King Leopold’s tyrannical reign over the DRC has been well documented by authors such as Adam Hochschild and Dave Van Raybrouck.  In these accounts he is depicted as a ruthless despot, set on extracting as much wealth out of his colony as possible regardless of the human, social, or political cost. More recently the DRC’s vast mineral wealth has come to be coveted by private corporations and individuals from a variety of countries.  Rich in diamonds, coltan, and timber, among other resources, fighting during recent conflict in the DRC frequently occurred over access to such valuable materials.  This wealth, coupled with ethnic tensions and violence linked to the genocides in Rwanda and Burundi has made for a tumultuous half century of independence as examined by Jason Stearns and Leive Joris in their works on the subject.

Out of this history comes Fiston Mwanza Mujila and his novel Tram 83.  Set in Lubumbashi, a city of nearly two million people in the south eastern part of the country, Tram 83 explores the relationship between the local population, western non governmental organizations, and international business interests.  Told mostly through the perspectives of Lucien, a local playwright and his friend Requiem, an experienced conman, Mujila’s novel paints Lubumbashi as an isolated confluence point, composed of “lovers of romance novels and dissident rebels and brothers in Christ and druids and shamans and aphrodisiac vendors and scriveners and purveyors of real fake passports and gun-runners and porters and bric-a-brac trades and mining prospectors short on liquid assets and Siamese twins.” 

Far from the reach of DRC governmental entities, rules and norms are dictated by outside economic interests and local militia leaders.  Much of the story takes place in the novel’s eponymous nightclub where deals are struck and alliances made.  The novel takes on notes of magical realism, extraordinary sequences of events which recall atrocities experienced by the citizens of many African nations under colonial rule.  Whereas Requiem has committed himself to the apparent absurdity of life in present day Lubumbashi, reveling in its unique freedoms and stratifications, Lucien spends the novel dreaming of a way out: “So whenever I write, it feels like my age is reduced by half, or even fifteen, seventeen, perhaps thirty-five years. It feels like I am returned to the belly of my mother and therefore have no one to answer to. I forget, in turn, my ragged clothes and my tuberculosis and my setbacks and my old pairs of shoes…”

Working on a play, Lucien hopes his ability as a writer will afford him opportunities to escape Lubumbashi.  As the realization of this dream fluctuates in its likelihood, readers are granted the opportunity to experience a variety of the characteristics that make Mujila’s Lubumbashi such a unique place.  From mines, to battlefields, universities, and trains, the mosaic of the city is a character in its own right.  Mujila’s ability to effectively convey the present-day implications of colonialism on African countries through the tale of a single Congolese city is truly remarkable.  This novel is as entertaining as it is informative and the pace of the story makes it hard to put down.

-Nate Mosseau, PPL Reference Staff


Curious about other contemporary writing from countries in Africa? You can read Nate’s first blog post in this series (“New Nigeria”) here.

Movie of the Month: Daughters of the Dust

posted: , by Patti DeLois
tags: Library Collections | Adults | Teens | Seniors | Art & Culture

It’s women’s history month, and our featured film has lots of women and quite a bit of history–the well-researched and visually gorgeous Daughters of the Dust by writer/director Julie Dash.

Set in 1902 on St. Helena Island off the coast of South Carolina, the story is ostensibly about a family reunion that takes place just before a faction of the family moves North, but as the late great, Roger Ebert observed, in a review dated 25 years ago today, “…there is the sense that all of them are going…and all of them are staying behind, because the family is…a single entity.” Indeed, the ancestors are present at the picnic, as well as children yet to be born.

The Peazant family is descended from the Ibo people of West Africa, and like others on the Sea Islands, their isolation has allowed them to maintain many of their traditions and rituals. They speak Gullah, which is mostly English in vocabulary but West African in its cadences and intonations. Nana Peazant, the matriarch, fears that the language, the traditions, the family history will be lost when the family assimilates into mainland culture.

It is rare to find a film set in these islands, focused on these people. In addition, Dash has researched and recreated authentic period hairstyles and exquisitely detailed costumes, and used the device of a visiting photographer to create beautiful tableaux. Check out Daughters of the Dust, and enjoy a unique cinematic experience.


For more films about women, click here and here.

For an interview with writer/director Julie Dash, click here.

And click here to read Richard Brody’s New Yorker article entitled Forgotten Treasures of Black Women’s Cinema.



We Love cloudLibrary!

posted: , by Sarah Skawinski
tags: About the Library | Library Collections | Online Services | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors

cloudLibrary, a brand new eBook and eAudiobook platform, is finally here! Library patrons at PPL and around our state are now able to download a wider range of eBooks and eAudiobooks on this new system, and we are excited to support you through the transition.

It’s official…PPL patrons love cloudLibrary! The app is very user-friendly and the content is incredible. Longer borrowing times and absolutely no late fees make it a win-win.

“I found myself at the dealership with a two hour wait and nothing to do. So I decided to download the cloudLibrary app on my iPhone and within minutes I was listening to Lily King’s Euphoria. It was so convenient and it completely saved my afternoon!”
-Rebecca S., PPL patron

cloudLibrary iconHave you downloaded the cloudLibrary app yet? All the information you need to get started can be found on our cloudLibrary help page, including helpful tips and tricks for navigating once you have downloaded the app.

And don’t forget that we are offering free pop-up help desks at all of our branch locations for anyone who would like some one-on-one tech help. We’d love to see you!

Main Library (in our New Fiction area, main floor)
Thurs., March 9, 10am-1pm
Fri., March 10, 10am-1pm
Sat., March 11, 1-4pm

Wed., March 8, 10am-1pm
Thurs., March 9, 3-6pm
Sat., March 11, 10am-1pm

Tues., March 7, 2-5pm
Fri., March 10, 2-5pm

Peaks Island
Tuesday, March 14

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