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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.



PPL at 150: A model public library

posted: , by Emily Levine
tags: About the Library | PPL150 | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors | News
Maine State Librarian Jamie Ritter

Maine State Librarian Jamie Ritter

Throughout 2017, some of our partners will share their perspective on PPL in honor of our 150th anniversary celebration.

Today’s contributor, Jamie Ritter, was selected by the Maine Library Commission in December 2014 to serve as Maine State Librarian. He is currently reading Virtual Unreality by Charles Seife.

Happy 150th Birthday, Portland Public Library!

You are an incredible resource to your community and serve as a model public library in Maine and across the nation. Bravo!

For 45 years and counting, PPL has been a foundational partner of the Maine State Library in providing, at no charge, “access to quality library collections at accessible locations for all citizens regardless of economic means or accident of geographic location.”

This regional service is critical to all Mainers and enshrined in law. At its heart, it ensures “equal and free access to the state’s great literature collections and informational resources.”

The crux of Maine State Library’s ongoing partnership is our collaborative approach and significant sharing of resources as we serve both individual citizens and other libraries.

Such a partnership requires dedication and perseverance. It’s easy to collaborate and share resources when times are great, budgets are flush, and organizations are fully staffed. When times are more challenging, the test of the partnership relies on the core values we all hold dear: to do all we can do to ensure that free access to library materials remains uninhibited.

This requires trust –trust between us as partners, and the trust we build with our communities so they know we stand at the ready to make sure public libraries remain sacred places that cherish the values of free access, privacy, enlightenment, and intellectual freedom.

Portland Public Library embodies these values and so much more. It’s a special place, embedded in the heart of the greater Portland community. PPL welcomes all, serves as a place of pride for the community, and preserves the best of our democratic values.

Keep up the great work, Portland Public! We are so honored to be your partner in bringing essential library services to Maine people. May your next 150 years be as exciting and terrific as the first.

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