- Diaspora & Returns in Fiction Special issue of African Literature Today
This 34th issue of African Literature Today explores a wide range of African migration-related issues and their different implications. As is thematically and chronologically indicated in the editorial chapter, this volume is divided into four parts to analyze the different meanings of return in African literature. The first two articles of this volume by Julia Udofia and Amanda Ruth Waugh Lagii provide new challenging perspectives on Ayi Kwei Armah's Fragments, one of the most famous, classic "been-to" novels written in African literature. Udofa and Lagii analyze the anxiety that inhabits the novel's main protagonist, Baako, who finds it hard to live peacefully in what he considers "home," his country of origin. They focus on Baako's mental breakdown resulting from his inability to reconcile his political ambition and the expectation of his people. While Udofia argues that ancestry and kinship are not the sole determining factors of belonging, that home "may have to be negotiated or re-negotiated as every return crafts a new home and creates a new meaning of home" (13), Laagi focuses on the question of time to demonstrate Baako's dilemma about whether he should adopt the slow rhythm of the elite in terms of development or the impatience of the masses. Indeed, the protagonist of the eve and the early post-independence African novel is a returnee or a been-to that finds it hard to reconcile politically and socially with his homeland after a long period of absence. The fictional narrative of this period focused unproblematically on a monolithic representation of Africa as home; a land where one should necessarily return to because, back then, many of the migrants were students who went to the West mainly for training purposes. The narratives especially focused on portraying the emotional, political, and cultural dysfunction of the returnee after his attempt to reconnect with his homeland.
Helen Yitah and Michael Okyerefo's essay, "Migration Cultural Memory and Identity in Benjamin Kwakye's The Other Crucifix," highlights the protagonist's (Jojo) psychological and spiritual "return" while still an immigrant in America, through his visceral desire to stick to his Ghanaian roots. This cultural memory explains why physically staying abroad is not always synonymous with a choice or a deliberate decision to stay distant from the homeland, but it is tied to the migrant's home country's poor economic condition. Exiles and refugees have [End Page 199] no intention of return, due to the sociopolitical turmoil they leave behind. This impossibility of return is what James Arnett demonstrates in Dinaw Mengestu's The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears. Although most protagonists of postcolonial novels rarely envision a return, some do construct a cultural memory that allows for both the negotiation of cultural space and the representation of their homeland in the host country.
In "Negotiating Race, Identity & Homecoming in Chimamada Ngozi Adichie's Americanah & Pede Hollist's So the Path Does Not Die," H. Obi Okolocha compares both novels by focusing, respectively, on the characters Ifemelu and Fina to examine their diasporic experience shaped by racism, which will result in their returning home. Okolocha argues that the racist experience of these two characters enabled them to redefine themselves and envision a return, which eventually impacted positively on the development of their homelands. They express no regret choosing to come back and settle in their home country. If there is any regret, it is the racist practices they incurred in the diaspora. In the same vein, Stephen Ney's analysis of the Gambian bildungsroman has also revealed that returning home is promoted as the best option for internal development. While early post-independence novels of migration highlighted the tumultuous cultural, social, and political experiences of African returnees, this new generation of novelists shift the narrative by offering a portrayal of the possibility for a successful return to the homeland. Such a successful return questions the conception of migration as equal to success in that these returnees show remorse about their migrating to the West.