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The River in the Belly

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A moving lyric meditation on the Congo River that explores the identity, chaos, and wonder of the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as race and the detritus of colonialism. With The River in the Belly, award-winning Congolese author Fiston Mwanza Mujila seeks no less than to reinitiate the Congo River in the imaginary of European languages. Through his invention of the “ A moving lyric meditation on the Congo River that explores the identity, chaos, and wonder of the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as race and the detritus of colonialism. With The River in the Belly, award-winning Congolese author Fiston Mwanza Mujila seeks no less than to reinitiate the Congo River in the imaginary of European languages. Through his invention of the “solitude”—a short poetic form lending itself to searing observation and troubled humor, prone to unexpected tonal shifts and lyrical u-turns—the collection celebrates, caresses, and chastises Central Africa’s great river, the world’s second largest by discharge volume. Drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as Soviet history, Congolese popular music, international jazz, and everyday life in European exile, Mwanza Mujila has fashioned a work that can speak to the extraordinary hopes and tragedies of post-independence Democratic Republic of the Congo while also mining the generative yet embattled subject position of the African diasporic writer in Europe longing for home. Fans of Tram 83 will rediscover in River the incandescent, improvisatory verbal energy that so dazzled them in Mwanza Mujila’s debut.


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A moving lyric meditation on the Congo River that explores the identity, chaos, and wonder of the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as race and the detritus of colonialism. With The River in the Belly, award-winning Congolese author Fiston Mwanza Mujila seeks no less than to reinitiate the Congo River in the imaginary of European languages. Through his invention of the “ A moving lyric meditation on the Congo River that explores the identity, chaos, and wonder of the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as race and the detritus of colonialism. With The River in the Belly, award-winning Congolese author Fiston Mwanza Mujila seeks no less than to reinitiate the Congo River in the imaginary of European languages. Through his invention of the “solitude”—a short poetic form lending itself to searing observation and troubled humor, prone to unexpected tonal shifts and lyrical u-turns—the collection celebrates, caresses, and chastises Central Africa’s great river, the world’s second largest by discharge volume. Drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as Soviet history, Congolese popular music, international jazz, and everyday life in European exile, Mwanza Mujila has fashioned a work that can speak to the extraordinary hopes and tragedies of post-independence Democratic Republic of the Congo while also mining the generative yet embattled subject position of the African diasporic writer in Europe longing for home. Fans of Tram 83 will rediscover in River the incandescent, improvisatory verbal energy that so dazzled them in Mwanza Mujila’s debut.

40 review for The River in the Belly

  1. 4 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Real Rating: 3.5* of five, rounded up because the pleasure of inventive poetry is very real I RECEIVED A DRC FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA EDELWEISS+. THANK YOU. My Review: I enjoyed Tram 83 a good deal more than most of my friends (see my almost-4-star review); it's a successful read for me because it has an energy that makes me want to keep reading the words. That was also what I got out of this collection of poems. I think the overall likelihood of my agreeing with most anyone on matters poetical isn' Real Rating: 3.5* of five, rounded up because the pleasure of inventive poetry is very real I RECEIVED A DRC FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA EDELWEISS+. THANK YOU. My Review: I enjoyed Tram 83 a good deal more than most of my friends (see my almost-4-star review); it's a successful read for me because it has an energy that makes me want to keep reading the words. That was also what I got out of this collection of poems. I think the overall likelihood of my agreeing with most anyone on matters poetical isn't high. What I will say is that I read the collection here without dramatic snorts or theatrical eyerolls. The one time I found myself thinking "oh, really?" was in the description above...the author's "invented solitudes"...when I thought, "someone hasn't met Henry Dumas's "Kef 24" and its fellow kefs. This is one frequent problem I experience with poetry. People either think I'm a know-it-all or an ignoramus because I make connections like this and, being poetry types, are not in the least reluctant to say something insulting or scathing either way. Tiresome sorts. Anyway, this collection. I don't think it will hit right with formalists, who overlap pretty far with monoglot English speakers among my own acquaintances. There are, in Author Mujila's work, words and ideas that can't be translated into an English word; there are times when those words and phrases aren't obvious to the not-Congolese reader. Some patient Googling, a bit of contemplative cogitation, or simply moving on will solve most of these problems. I encourage the reader whose eyes just rolled to give the read a try...it's a shame not to become a more informed, better equipped reader for lack of mere exposure. Author Mujila also isn't reluctant to use sexual imagery or crudely physical imagery. If you flinch at describing male fowl as "cocks," you really need not pick this book up. The idea of a river as entrails, with dysentery, gives you the primmylip purseymouths? Horseman, pass by. One of the greater pleasures, to my mind, of reading translated work from other cultures is the opportunity to learn what *their* boundaries are, what sets a word or idea apart as transgressive in their world-view. I got a very great deal out of reading this collection; I am not an eager seeker of experiences poetical; and I think that means many, if not most, of y'all could get a lot out of the read as well.

  2. 4 out of 5

    leynes

    Fiston Mwanza Mujila was born in 1981 in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, and now lives in Graz, Austria. Some of you may know him from his debut novel Tram 83, which was longlisted for the Man Booker. He has also published lesser-known poetry collections and plays. His writing is indebted to jazz, responds to political turbulence in his native country and its effects on everyday life, and displays surprising tonal shifts, bouts of humor and lots of energy. Mujila identifies primarily a Fiston Mwanza Mujila was born in 1981 in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, and now lives in Graz, Austria. Some of you may know him from his debut novel Tram 83, which was longlisted for the Man Booker. He has also published lesser-known poetry collections and plays. His writing is indebted to jazz, responds to political turbulence in his native country and its effects on everyday life, and displays surprising tonal shifts, bouts of humor and lots of energy. Mujila identifies primarily as a poet. His 2013 collection Le Fleuve dans le ventre (The River in the Belly) was published in a French-German bilingual edition by Austrian publisher Edition Thanhäuser. It is currently out of print but I was lucky enough to snatch up a copy after messaging the publisher. An English translation was released, for the first time ever, this year, which is super exciting. In Le Fleuve dans le ventre, Mujila explores the image of the Congo River. The entire collections pays tribute to, caresses, and chastises Africa's greatest river, the world’s second largest by discharge volume. Let ’em praise the Brahmaputra, let ’em write home about the Yangtze, let ’em acclaim the Zambezi, they can flaunt the Euphrates, go on about the Meuse, sing the Guadalquivir, elect the Mississippi, and its sons-in-law, the Arkansas, the Missouri, and the Ohio, I brandish the Congo, the only river that saps your concentration, the only river that fakes tuberculosis, the only river that dances the tango and salsa and bolero and flamenco and the cha-cha-cha, the only river that thumbs its nose at you, the only river that eats meat, the only river that offs itself in the ocean, legs together, arms crossed ... For Western readers who still after so many years cannot think the Congo without Conrad, Mujila's poems offer a restorative tonic. They speak to the histories of upheaval and manifold hopes and tragedies of post-independence Democratic Republic of Congo, and, since Mujila lives in Austria, they often delve into the generative yet embattled subject position of the African diasporic writer in Europe. The theme of Africa with white men against a black backdrop (the ultimate colonial metaphor) is something that most of us will be familiar with, it's after all, what we've been taught through our history books and the classical canon. What Fiston achieves with this collection, is to reclaim and recapture his homeland. In Le Fleuve dans le Ventre, we get his perspective, a Congolese perspective. He is screaming "this is MY river, it's in MY belly, I ate it and shit it and puke it and give birth to it again." It's powerful! The poems are radical if only because of the themes addressed, such as violence, hunger, child soldiers, the numerous unburied corpses that were simply thrown into the Congo River, disease, disfigurement, ... The destroyed or injured body is often at the center. This physicality also includes spitting and eating. However, not food in the harmless ordinary sense, but food without filling, food that leads to self-dissolution or self-destruction, as is the case in the auto-cannibalism that often appears. The fact that this collection is now finally available in English is very enriching, as it will be able to reach more people this way—people who desperately need to hear Mujila's message: "My first dream was to play sax. My last to become a river, the Congo or the Niger—little it matters!—and spend my days at peace, far from these wars you export and these famines that let you play at being proverbial Santa Clauses and Good Samaritans. What an act! You give with the left hand what you snatch away with the right. What an act! You give with both hands—scabby they are!—and then you run to brag of your exploits as saviors of humanity and sleepwalking Santa Clauses expressly put on the face of the earth to grant us rice, soap, salt, palm oil, cassava flour, condoms, and djudju juice. What an act! You keep up the absurd and this theatre of the absurd!" Mujila never fails to call out the colonial structures in our so-called post-colonial world: "In the name of some kind of peace, after seizing both Kivus, after taking our diamonds, copper, cobalt, coltan, and uranium, after torching our fields, after trashing our schools and hospitals, after cutting our electricity, after raping our grandmothers and reducing our mothers to sexual slavery, after castrating our fathers and condemning our uncles to forced labor, after sabotaging the Inga Dam, after desecrating our cemeteries and keeping us from mourning our dead, will they also find a way to haul away the Congo River and use it as room freshener? This is not a question. It may or may not be an open secret: the river will drown anyone who so much as touches a hair on its head…" All the while keeping the image of the Congo river alive. The river serves as a thread, weaving itself through the entire collection. And just like the river, Mujila gets angry, mad. He's thrashing. He's revolting. The waves are crashing at the shore. But the river is unwavering. Throughout all the trauma, throughout hundreds of years, it still runs its course, unlike the many different inhabitants of his shores, who leave, have left, will leave: I’m not the first to leave the continent my exile won’t be the exile of a race even if I die today in Minsk or in early afternoon in Vladivostok no city will fall quiet, no nation will mourn I see only my mother crumple—her eyes tear up a few friends get knots in their stomachs the Congo River will pursue its nightly course Mujila writes: "The Congo has no reason to envy other rivers. / It’s got their froth, their hard-on, and virulence to scare you stiff. At the end of the day, it doesn’t even need to take the family deduction or apply for a visa to be a river. It was a river. / It is a river. It will remain a river. A river without nationality. / A free river. An independent river. An uppercase river. / A RIVER–RIVER!" Le Fleuve dans le Ventre is Mujila's exploration of the Congo River, steeped in history. The collection is very fragmentary, there are many thematic strands in it; some are very personal and intimate, others more political or socially relevant. But beware! This collection is dense. It's a lot to handle (sometimes too much), and by no means easy to understand. Mujila effortlessly mixes standard French with his own Congolese influences. He makes up words, re-defines them in the process. This collection flows differently. Rhythm and sounds are very important for the poems. Not only single words, sentences or lines are repeated, but whole poems. And many things flew right over my head. But it doesn't really matter. It's a very special experience, one that will stay with me for a while, and one that I'll gladly come back to. If I may say two words River Congo, I won’t drink your water as long as you keep the secret as long as you don’t spit out at Brazza and Mbamu the bodies of my loved ones Torn open, wounded, dismembered are words I’d use to describe these are the poems. A cry of despair, shouting out what is usually repressed and concealed. Mujila's words demand to be spoken aloud, sung or even shouted. So let’s do just that! Let’s celebrate this much-needed voice!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Charlott

    The poems in Fiston Mwanza Mujila's The River in the Belly (translated from French by J. Bret Maney) revolve around the Congo River but also adds other bodies of waters, themes of exile and rememberance. The Congo River here is not a romanticized place, but appears as object and subject of a violent history and present, of colonial and post-colonial exploitation, the river as a witness - but with agency. Mujila even laments in one of the poems even: "its complicit silence/ makes me sick...". Havin The poems in Fiston Mwanza Mujila's The River in the Belly (translated from French by J. Bret Maney) revolve around the Congo River but also adds other bodies of waters, themes of exile and rememberance. The Congo River here is not a romanticized place, but appears as object and subject of a violent history and present, of colonial and post-colonial exploitation, the river as a witness - but with agency. Mujila even laments in one of the poems even: "its complicit silence/ makes me sick...". Having "the river in the belly" as the title puts it is not a serene image of belonging but it is troubling: A lot of the imagery evolves around sickness, nauseau, and yes, diarrhea. The poems in their entirety built up to a visceral depiction of the effects of violence and trauma accross generations - and the position of the exiled writer in the mids of that. "as the river offs itself in the ocean I go off to spill my guts" If you have read Fiston Mwanza Mujila's Tram 83 you know that his style is very musical - and that is true for many of these poems too. Would love to hear them read aloud by Mujila. I did find some of the imagery (and phrasings) a bit repetitive (and not as in echoes and adding layers). There were also some gendered images I found more irksome. All the poems are called "Solitude" and numbered (some have additional title lines). The blurb describes solitude as "a short poetic form lending itself to searing observation and troubled humour, prone to unexpected tonal shifts and lyrical U-tone". I wasn't convinced by this framing as the poems do not necessarily follow a very specific form. There are a lot of more short form poems but there are also substantially longer ones which are also called "Solitude". I just did not see the specific causality between form and content implied by the blurb. What I found more interesting was that the poems are numbered but they are not presented from the lowest to the highest number but seemingly mixed. I read the book from front to back but I would be interested to re-read the collection and read them by number to see if that opens new connections and layers.

  4. 5 out of 5

    J

    'and yes, but no, my australopithecine gullet and yes, but neither, my protozoan mug and yes, but no, my skeletal body and yes, but neither, my amphibian belly am I a toad? the toaderino (?)' (Solitude 21, p24) 'and yes, but no, my australopithecine gullet and yes, but neither, my protozoan mug and yes, but no, my skeletal body and yes, but neither, my amphibian belly am I a toad? the toaderino (?)' (Solitude 21, p24)

  5. 4 out of 5

    K's Bognoter

    Gennem Zaires/Den Demokratiske Republik Congos historie løber en flod af krig, vold, børnesoldater, sult, sygdomme, men også håb, dans, liv. Og det hele er tilstede i Mujilas prosadigte. Jeg er generelt ikke den store lyriklæser, og det påvirker givetvis min læsning af værket, som jeg ikke var begejstret for på samme måde som Mujilas romaner - selv om der så afgjort også er saft og kraft og kreativt sprog på spil i "The River in the Belly." Læs hele min anmeldelse på K's bognoter: https://bognote Gennem Zaires/Den Demokratiske Republik Congos historie løber en flod af krig, vold, børnesoldater, sult, sygdomme, men også håb, dans, liv. Og det hele er tilstede i Mujilas prosadigte. Jeg er generelt ikke den store lyriklæser, og det påvirker givetvis min læsning af værket, som jeg ikke var begejstret for på samme måde som Mujilas romaner - selv om der så afgjort også er saft og kraft og kreativt sprog på spil i "The River in the Belly." Læs hele min anmeldelse på K's bognoter: https://bognoter.dk/2021/10/03/fiston...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ben Niespodziany

    A headfirst plunder into the jazz and substance and fevers of the river's underbelly, where Fiston Mwanza Mujila is a daydreaming reporter, soaking his surroundings like a surreal sponge. Read Tram 83 them jump into fragmented madness. A headfirst plunder into the jazz and substance and fevers of the river's underbelly, where Fiston Mwanza Mujila is a daydreaming reporter, soaking his surroundings like a surreal sponge. Read Tram 83 them jump into fragmented madness.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Miki

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ani

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

  10. 5 out of 5

    Philip

  11. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

  12. 5 out of 5

    dimwig

  13. 4 out of 5

    lévi-civita

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

  15. 5 out of 5

    Zachary

  16. 5 out of 5

    Vic

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dusky Literati

  18. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jarmo

  20. 5 out of 5

    Leo

  21. 4 out of 5

    Claire

  22. 5 out of 5

    Duncan

  23. 5 out of 5

    Stef

  24. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Pearson

  25. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

  26. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

  28. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

  29. 4 out of 5

    Caroline Garriott

  30. 4 out of 5

    Meg

  31. 5 out of 5

    Beni Kivuku

  32. 5 out of 5

    Tierra

  33. 5 out of 5

    Caroline-not-getting-updates

  34. 5 out of 5

    José

  35. 4 out of 5

    Alan

  36. 4 out of 5

    Bailey

  37. 5 out of 5

    James Leng

  38. 5 out of 5

    Günter

  39. 4 out of 5

    Joe Milazzo

  40. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

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