Fragments , published in 2006 by Per Ankh, is the second book by the notable Ghanaian writer, Ayi Kwei Armah.
Baako is the protagonist in the novel. He has been to the United States for his education and so he is referred to as a ‘been-to’. After nearly five years in the US, Baako returns back home, with hopes to build his writing career and help his nation with his newly acquired skills.
The beginning chapter reads:
‘Each thing that goes away returns and nothing in the end is lost. The great friend throws all things apart and brings all things together again. That is the way everything goes and turns round. That is how all living things come back after long absences, and in the whole great world all things are living things. All that goes returns. He will return.’
But before Baako hits the airport, he meets Brempong – who is an embodiment of materialism in the society. And so while Brempong brings so many goodies for his family, Baako carries almost nothing materialistic. Unfortunately for Baako, his family has high expectations. They are hoping that their ‘been-to’ will bring lots of gifts and materialistic things from the US.
Thus Armah confronts a key question that many Africans face on returning home from overseas. What is the most important thing that Africans who travel outside the continent to say, the United States, can bring home? Is it the ostentatious goodies so all can believe that they have indeed travelled? What then would be the importance of their educational sojourn in a foreign country?
For me, the bigger question after reading the book concerns the place of the arts (say writing as in the case of Baako) in the Ghanaian society? To put it differently, is Ghana (or for that matter Africa) ready to accept artists like writers?
Armah’s Fragments is partially autobiographical as he shares some similarities with his protagonist.