Transcendent Kingdom


Yaa Gyasi

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Transcendent Kingdom: Chapter 1  Summary & Analysis

When Gifty thinks of her mother, she pictures her mother lying in her bed during her two illnesses. During the first Gifty was a child and she was sent to Ghana. Walking through the market one day, her aunt pointed out a “crazy person” who stumbled around, mumbling and gesturing nonsensically.
The book opens with the image of Gifty’s mother in bed, because her mother’s depression—and the family tragedy that caused it—are the center around which Gifty’s research work and personal life orbit. Gifty also saw a lot of her mother when she was in bed, since she was responsible for nursing her through at least part of both her illnesses, once when Gifty was a child, and later when she was an adult. The image of her motionless mother calls up another early vision of mental illness, this one characterized by excessive motion and sound. The comparison and contrast of these images of mental illness suggest that health and illness aren’t easy to identify or understand from the outside.
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Gifty doesn’t know why her aunt pointed out the man. Maybe she thought there were no crazy people in America. Or she was contrasting Gifty’s mother, sick in a way that Gifty didn’t yet understand, with a truly crazy person. Her aunt’s words reminded Gifty of her mother, with Pastor John’s hand on her head while prayers buzzed quietly in the room.
Gifty’s suspicion that her aunt was contrasting the crazy man with her mother suggests that, at least as a child, she didn’t truly accept or understand that her mother was sick. As an adult and a neuroscientist, she understands that depression is an illness, not a character flaw. Her memory of the family’s pastor praying for her mother’s healing introduces the theme of science and religion. Since the prayers were evidently ineffective—her mother is still sick, so Gifty is in Ghana with relatives—Gifty’s memories suggest her preoccupation with the ways both science and religion fail to answer important questions or solve painful problems. 
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Even now, when Gifty hears “crazy,” she imagines both the man in the market and her mother. The man seemed peaceful, despite his wild gestures. But her mother, lying perfectly still in bed, was “wild inside.”
Gifty finishes thinking through the comparison and contrast between her mother and the crazy man at the Ghanaian market. She suggests that both of them were wild, just in different ways. While the man expressed wildness, he seemed to be relatively content; in contrast, by silently containing her wildness inside of her, Gifty’s mother was ill and suffering in a different, perhaps worse, way.
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