Transcendent Kingdom

by

Yaa Gyasi

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Gifty Character Analysis

Gifty is a sixth-year PhD candidate studying the neuroscience of addiction and depression. Her mother and father (the Chin Chin Man) immigrated to America from Ghana after the birth of Gifty’s older brother, Nana. Gifty’s childhood is marked by trauma and loss: first her father returns to Ghana alone, Nana becomes addicted to heroin and dies of an overdose, and her mother falls into several deep depressions. As a young child, Gifty is driven, serious, pious, and literalistic. She worries about her ability to follow the Bible’s commands and she approaches Christianity as a checklist to complete, with tasks like praying successfully, reading the whole Bible one summer, memorizing scriptures, and performing charity work with the church. As a teenager and college student, Gifty clings to her sense of legalism and orderliness to protect herself from more trauma. To avoid repeating her mother and brother’s perceived mistakes, she avoids alcohol, drugs and sex. She denies herself intimacy with everyone, including her best friend Anne. As an adult, Gifty pursues science because it is orderly and rule-bound. She knows that if she performs her experiments the right way and repeats them enough times, she’ll get the answers she’s seeking. In many ways, Gifty doesn’t see herself very well. She claims that she went into neuroscience because it was hard, when it’s clear that she also wants to find answers to the pain and suffering experienced by her family (but is unwilling to admit this). She says she doesn’t believe in God, but she can’t stop listening for him. And she doesn’t think that she needs other people, even as she slowly learns to accept the friendship and help of her colleague Katherine and lab-mate Han. Initially, Gifty feels that she is has a million contradictory selves, but this is an artifact of her own denial and unwillingness to see herself in the way that others, like Nana, Anne, Katherine, and Han, see her.

Gifty Quotes in Transcendent Kingdom

The Transcendent Kingdom quotes below are all either spoken by Gifty or refer to Gifty. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Science and Religion Theme Icon
).
Chapter 2  Quotes

I was determined not to let that happen again. I’d bought a Ghanian cookbook online to make up for the years I’d spent avoiding my mother’s kitchen, and I’d practiced a few of the dishes in the days leading up to my mother’s arrival, hoping to perfect them before I saw her. I’d bought a deep fryer, even though my grad student stipend left little room for extravagances like bofrot or plantains. Fried food was my mother’s favorite. Her mother had made fried food from a cart on the side of the road in Kumasi. My grandmother was a Fante woman from Abandze, a sea town, and she was notorious for despising Asantes, so much so that she refused to speak Twi, even after twenty years of living in the Asante capital. If you bought her food, you had to listen to her language.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Mother
Related Symbols: Food
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

“Gifty,” she said as I set the bowl of koko down. “Do you still pray?”

It would have been kinder to lie, but I wasn’t kind anymore. Maybe I never had been. I vaguely remembered a childhood kindness, but maybe I was conflating innocence and kindness. I felt so little continuity between who I was as a young child and who I was now that it seemed pointless to even consider showing my mother something like mercy. Would I have been merciful when I was a child?

“No,” I answered.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Mother
Related Symbols: Food
Page Number: 17-18
Explanation and Analysis:

Though I had done this millions of times, it still awed me to see a brain. To know that if I could only understand this little organ inside this one tiny mouse, that understanding still wouldn’t speak to the full intricacy of the comparable organ inside my own head. And yet I had to try to understand, to extrapolate from that limited understanding in order to apply it to those of us who made up the species Homo sapiens, the most complex animal, the only animal who believed he had transcended his Kingdom, as one of my high school biology teachers used to say. That belief, that transcendence, was held within this organ itself. Infinite, unknowable, soulful, perhaps even magical. I had traded the Pentecostalism of my childhood for this new religion, this new quest, knowing that I would never fully know.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker)
Related Symbols: Mouse
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

Like when I was five and Nana was eleven, and we found a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest. Nana scooped it into his big palms, and the two of us ran home. The house was empty. The house was always empty, but we knew we needed to act fast, because if our mother came home to find the bird, she’d kill it outright or take it away and drop it in some small stretch of wilderness, leaving it to die. She’d tell us exactly what she’d done, too. She was never the kind of parent who lied to make her children feel better … Nana left the bird with me while he poured a bowl of milk for it. When I held it in my hands, I felt its fear, the unending shiver of its little round body, and I started crying.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Mother , Nana
Related Symbols: Baby Bird
Page Number: 30-31
Explanation and Analysis:

I think … people … assumed that I had gone into neuroscience out of a sense of duty to him, but the truth is I’d started this work not because I wanted to help people but because it seemed like the hardest thing you could do, and I wanted to do the hardest thing. I wanted to flay any mental weakness off my body … I never touched a drop of alcohol because I lived in fear that addiction was like a man in a dark trench coat, stalking me, waiting for me to get off the well-lit sidewalk and step into an alley. I had seen the alley. I had watched Nana walk into the alley and I had watched my mother go in after him, and I was so angry at them for not being strong enough to stay in the light. And so I did the hard thing.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Mother , Nana
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

I’m not pretending there is an impending disaster; I truly believe that there is one. At one point, I make a low, guttural, animal sound, a sound so clearly biological in its design to elicit attention and sympathy from my fellow animals, and yet my fellow animals—my father, my brother,—do nothing but talk over me … we are all safe, in a small, rented house in Alabama, not stranded in a dark and dangerous rain forest, not on a raft in the middle of the sea. So the sound is a nonsense sound, a misplaced sound, a lion’s roar in the tundra. When I listen to the tape now, it seems to me that this itself was the disaster I foresaw, a common enough disaster for most infants these days: that I was a baby, born cute, loud, needy, but wild, but the conditions of the wilderness had changed.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Nana , Father/The Chin Chin Man
Related Symbols: Baby Bird
Page Number: 49-50
Explanation and Analysis:

Back then, I approached my piety the same way I approached my studies: fastidiously. I spent the summer after my eighth birthday reading my Bible cover to cover, a feat that even my mother admitted she had never done. I wanted, above all else, to be good. And I wanted the path to that goodness to be clear. I suspect that this is why I excelled at math and science, where the rules are laid out step by step, where if you did something exactly the way it was supposed to be done, the result would be exactly what it was expected to be.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Mother
Page Number: 54-55
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

If I’ve thought of my mother as callous, and many times I have, then it is important to remind myself what a callus is: the hardened tissue that forms over a wound. And what a wound my father leaving was. On those phone calls with the Chin Chin Man, my mother was always so tender, drawing from a wellspring of patience that I never would have had if I were in her shoes. To think of the situation now still makes me furious. That this man, my father, went back to Ghana in such a cowardly way, leaving his two children and wife alone to navigate a difficult country, a punishing state. That he let us, let her, believe that he might return.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Mother , Father/The Chin Chin Man
Page Number: 72-73
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

We walked to the Greyhound station, our mother holding our hands the entire time. We took that bus home, and I don’t think Nana made a single noise. I don’t think I did either. I could feel that something had changed among the three of us and I was trying to learn what my role in this new configuration of my family might be. That day was the end of my naughtiness, the beginning of my good years. If our mother was angry or upset at us, me for being a terror, Nana for changing his mind, she didn’t let on. She wrapped us in her arms during that long ride home, her face inscrutable. When we got home, she put all of Nana’s soccer gear into a box, sealed the box, and dumped it into the nether regions of our garage, never to be seen again.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Mother , Nana , Father/The Chin Chin Man
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

The collaboration that the mice and I have going in this lab is, if not holy, then at least sacrosanct. I have never, will never, tell anyone that I sometimes think this way, because I’m aware that the Christians in my life would find it blasphemous and the scientists would find it embarrassing, but the more I do this work the more I believe in a kind of holiness in our connection to everything on Earth. Holy is the mouse. Holy is the grain the mouse eats. Holy is the seed. Holy are we.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker)
Page Number: 95-96
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

I felt a strange sense of kinship with Hopkins every time I read about his personal life, his difficulty reconciling his religion with his desires and thoughts, his repressed sexuality. I enjoyed reading his letters and, inspired to some romantic ideal of the nineteenth century, tried writing letters of my own to my mother. Letters in which I hoped to tell her about my complicated feelings about God…all of which could have been a different petal on the flower of my belief: “I believe in God, I do not believe in God.” Neither of these sentiments felt true to what I actually felt.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Mother
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 23 Quotes

What’s the point? became a refrain for me as I went through the motions. One of my mice … was hopelessly addicted to Ensure, pressing the lever so often that he’d developed a psychosomatic limp in anticipation of the random shocks…Soon he would be one of the mice I used in optogenetics, but not before I watched him repeat his doomed actions with that beautifully pure, deluded hope of an addict, the hope that says, This time will be different. This time I’ll make it out okay.

“What’s the point of all this?” is a question that separates humans from other animals. Our curiosity around this issue has sparked everything from science to literature to philosophy to religion. When the answer to this questions is, “Because God deemed it so,” we might feel comforted. But what if the answer to this question is “I don’t know,” or worse still, “Nothing?”

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Nana
Related Symbols: Mouse
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 26 Quotes

In class that day, I stared at the diagram in wonder, the secret world, an inner world, revealed. I looked around at my classmates and could see in their business-as-usual faces that they already knew all of this. Their bodies had not been kept from them. It was neither the first nor the last time at Harvard that I would feel as though I was starting from behind, trying to make up for an early education that had been full of holes. I went back to my dorm room and tentatively, furtively pulled out a hand mirror and examined myself, wondering all the while how, if I hadn’t left my town, if I hadn’t continued my education, this particular hole, the question of anatomy, of sex, would have been filled. I was tired of learning things the hard way.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker)
Page Number: 140-141
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 29 Quotes

I didn’t move at all. Something came over me. Something came over me, filled me and took hold. I had heard that altar call hundreds of times and felt absolutely nothing. I had prayed my prayers, written my journal entries, and heard only the faintest whisper of Christ. And that whisper was one I distrusted, because maybe it was the whisper of my mother or of my own desperate need to be good, to please. I hadn’t expected to hear the loud knocking on my heart’s door, but that night I heard it. I heard it. These days, because I have been trained to ask questions, I find myself questioning that moment. I ask myself, “What came over you?” I say, “Be specific.”

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker)
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 31 Quotes

I couldn’t make myself look away. I felt like I was watching some major natural event—newly hatched sea turtles heading toward the lip of the ocean, bears coming out of hibernation. I was waiting for Nana to emerge, new, reborn.

In the church I grew up in, people cared about rebirth. For months on end, all across the South, all over the world, revival tents are erected. Preachers stand at pulpits promising people that they can rise from the ashes of their lives. “Revival fire fall,” I used to sing along with the choir, jubilantly asking that God raze everything to the ground. I stole glances at Nana at the end of our pew, and I thought, Surely the fire has fallen?

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Nana
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 36 Quotes

I thought that Nana was proving everyone right about us, and I wanted him to get better, to be better, because I thought that being good was what it would take to prove everyone wrong. I walked around those places, pious child that I was, thinking that my goodness was proof negative. “Look at me!” I wanted to shout. I wanted to be a living theorem, a Logos. Science and math had already taught me that if there were too many exceptions to a rule, then the rule was not a rule. Look at me.

This was all so wrongheaded, so backward, but I didn’t know how to think any differently. The rule was never a rule, but I had mistaken it for one. It took me years of questioning and seeking to see more than my little piece, and even now I don’t always see it.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Nana
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

I didn’t want everybody staring at us, making their judgments. I didn’t want further proof of God’s failure to heal my brother, a failure that I saw as unbelievably cruel, despite a lifetime of hearing that God works in mysterious ways. I wasn’t interested in mystery. I wanted reason, and it was becoming increasingly clear to me that I would get none of it in that place where I had spent so much of my life. If I could have stopped going to the First Assemblies altogether, I would have.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Nana
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 40 Quotes

[A]t a certain point, science fails. Questions become guesses become philosophical ideas about how something should probably, maybe be. I grew up around people who were distrustful of science, who thought of it as a cunning trick to rob them of their faith, and I have been educated around scientists … who talk about religion as though it were a comfort blanket for the dumb and the weak, a way to extol the virtues of a God more improbable than our own human existence. But this tension, this idea that one must necessarily choose between science and religion, is false. I used to see the world through a God lens, and when that lens clouded, I turned to science. Both became, for me, valuable ways of seeing, but ultimately both have failed to fully satisfy in their aim: to make clear, to make meaning.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker)
Page Number: 212-213
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 46 Quotes

I started writing my own fairy tale, wherein my mother, the beauty of Abandze, who grew sleepier and sleepier each year that she was away until she finally became unrousable, is carried on her golden bed by four gorgeous, strong men. She is carried all the way from my apartment in California to the coast of Ghana, where she is laid on the sand. And as the tide comes in, licking first the soles of her feet, then her ankles, to calf, then knee, she slowly starts to wake. By the time the water swallows the golden bed, stealing her out to sea, she has come alive again. The sea creatures take bits of her bed, and with it, they fashion a mermaid’s tail. They slip it onto her. They teach her how to swim with it. They live with her there forever.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Mother
Page Number: 241-242
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 48 Quotes

She would tell me stories about her sister and then look at me expectantly as though I were meant to trade. A sister story for a brother story, but I wouldn’t do it. Anne’s stories about her sister, about the parties they’d gone to, the people they’d slept with, they didn’t feel like an even trade for the stories I had about Nana. My Nana stories didn’t have happy endings. His years of partying, of sleeping around, they didn’t end with him holding down a job in finance in New York, as Anne’s sister did. And it wasn’t fair. That was the thing that was at the heart of my reluctance and my resentment. Some people make it out of their stories unscathed, thriving. Some people don’t.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Anne
Page Number: 253
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 50 Quotes

It took me many years to realize that it’s hard to live in this world. I don’t mean the mechanics of living, because for most of us, our hearts will beat, our lungs will take in oxygen, without us doing anything at all to tell them to. For most of us, mechanically, physically, it’s harder to die than it is to live. But still we try to die. We drive too fast down winding roads, we have sex with strangers without wearing protection, we drink, we use drugs. We try to squeeze a little more out of our lives. It’s natural to want to do that. But to be alive in the world, every day, as we are given more and more and more, as the nature of “what we can handle” changes and our methods for how we handle it change, too, that’s something of a miracle.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Mother , Anne, Raymond, Katherine, Han
Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 52 Quotes

My papers … captured the facts of my experiments, but said nothing of what it had felt like to hold a mouse in my hands and feel its entire body thump against my palms as it breathed, as its heart beat. I wanted to say that too … I wanted to tell someone about the huge wave of relief I felt every time I watched an addicted mouse refuse the lever. That gesture, that refusal, that was the point of the work, the triumph of it, but there was no way to say any of that. Instead, I wrote out the step-by-step process, the order. The reliability, the stability of the work, the impulse to keep plugging … that was the skin of it for me, but the heart of it was that wave of relief, that limping mouse’s tiny, alive body, living still, and still.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Nana
Related Symbols: Mouse
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 53 Quotes

I started reading my way through every entry I’d ever written, reading my way through what was essentially my entire conscious lifetime. I was so embarrassed by the early entries that I read them all, cringing and squinting my eyes in an attempt to hide from my former self. By the time I got to the years of Nana’s addiction, I was undone. I couldn’t proceed. I decided then and there that I would build a new Gifty from scratch. She would be the person I took along with me to Cambridge—confident, poised, smart. She would be strong and unafraid. I opened up a blank page and wrote a new entry that began with these words: I will figure out a way to be myself, whatever that means, and I won’t talk about Nana or my mom all the time. It’s too depressing.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Mother , Nana
Page Number: 275-276
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 54 Quotes

When I was a child, I had this sense of confidence, this assuredness that the things I felt were real and important, that the world made sense according to divine logic. I loved God, my brother, and my mother, in that order. When I lost my brother, poof went the other two. God was gone in an instant, but my mother became a mirage, an image formed by refracted light. I moved toward her, but she never moved toward me. She was never there. The day I came home from school and couldn’t find her felt like the thirty-ninth day in the desert, the thirty-ninth day without water. I didn’t think I’d be able to survive another.

“Never again,” my mother said, but I didn’t believe her. Without meaning to or planning to, I’d spent seventeen years waiting for the fortieth day. Here it was.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Mother
Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis:
Epilogue Quotes

I wish I were trying to figure out how to clone an alien, but my work pursuits are much more modest: neurons and proteins and mammals. I’m no longer interested in other worlds or spiritual planes. I’ve seen enough in a mouse to understand transcendence, holiness, redemption. In people, I’ve seen even more.

From the back pew, Christ’s face is the portrait of ecstasy. I stare at it, and it changes, goes from angry to pained to joyful. Some days, I sit there for hours, some days mere minutes, but I never bow my head. I never pray, never wait to hear God’s voice, I just look. I sit in blessed silence, and I remember. I try to make order, make sense, make meaning of the jumble of it all. Always, I light two candles before I go.

Related Characters: Gifty (speaker), Mother , Han
Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:
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Gifty Character Timeline in Transcendent Kingdom

The timeline below shows where the character Gifty appears in Transcendent Kingdom. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 
Addiction, Depression, and Control Theme Icon
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
When Gifty thinks of her mother, she pictures her mother lying in her bed during her two... (full context)
Science and Religion Theme Icon
Gifty doesn’t know why her aunt pointed out the man. Maybe she thought there were no... (full context)
Addiction, Depression, and Control Theme Icon
Even now, when Gifty hears “crazy,” she imagines both the man in the market and her mother. The man... (full context)
Chapter 2 
Addiction, Depression, and Control Theme Icon
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
At the beginning of her mother’s second illness, Gifty discovers that her experimental mice have been fighting. She separates them as she speaks on... (full context)
Science and Religion Theme Icon
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
When Gifty gets her mother from the airport, her mother seems empty. She doesn’t even mock the... (full context)
Self-Discovery, Identity, and Individuality Theme Icon
Gifty’s mother stares out of the car windows while Gifty remembers how beautiful she found California... (full context)
Self-Discovery, Identity, and Individuality Theme Icon
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
During her first illness, Gifty’s mother lost 70 pounds, so this time, Gifty buys a Ghanaian cookbook and a deep... (full context)
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Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
At her apartment, Gifty apologizes to her mother for the mess. Her mother could always find hidden dirt and... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
On the day that Gifty found her mice injured, her lab mate, Han, found her weeping in a corner. He... (full context)
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
On the day of her mother’s arrival, Han is in the lab before Gifty. They don’t talk much; if she says more than “hello,” his ears burn with embarrassment.... (full context)
Chapter 4
Science and Religion Theme Icon
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
Excerpts from Gifty’s childhood journal take the form of letters addressed to God. She wonders where God is,... (full context)
Chapter 5
Science and Religion Theme Icon
Gifty recalls her family’s story. Her father, the Chin Chin Man, met her mother buying food... (full context)
Chapter 6
Science and Religion Theme Icon
Gifty’s mother does nothing but sleep. She refuses to eat the komo, a favorite Ghanaian food,... (full context)
Self-Discovery, Identity, and Individuality Theme Icon
Gifty thinks she was a merciful child, but she doesn’t see any continuity between that child... (full context)
Addiction, Depression, and Control Theme Icon
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
In the present, her mother tells Gifty that she should pray. Then she takes two bites of the food. When Gifty asks... (full context)
Science and Religion Theme Icon
Gifty goes back to the lab and performs surgery on some of her mice. No matter... (full context)
Self-Discovery, Identity, and Individuality Theme Icon
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
As a sixth-year PhD candidate in neuroscience at Stanford, Gifty is researching “the neural circuits of reward-seeking behavior,” although she has learned to simplify how... (full context)
Self-Discovery, Identity, and Individuality Theme Icon
Gifty remembers a time when she asked her mother if she was beautiful. Her mother told... (full context)
Self-Discovery, Identity, and Individuality Theme Icon
Addiction, Depression, and Control Theme Icon
Gifty tries not to humanize her mice, but she does wonder if they notice the weight... (full context)
Science and Religion Theme Icon
Addiction, Depression, and Control Theme Icon
In the entry, Gifty describes how handsome Nana looks as he dresses for prom in his special-ordered suit. When... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
As a child, Gifty found the story of her parents’ immigration insufficient, so she invented better stories. In kindergarten,... (full context)
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
Gifty wanted her family’s story to either be a fairy tale or to reflect the war-torn... (full context)
Chapter 8
Self-Discovery, Identity, and Individuality Theme Icon
As a child, Gifty thought she would grow up to be a dancer, a worship leader, a preacher’s wife,... (full context)
Science and Religion Theme Icon
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
...They brought it home, even though their mother would have unsentimentally left it to die. Gifty held the trembling bird while Nana got milk to feed it. The singer’s voice reminded... (full context)
Science and Religion Theme Icon
Next, Gifty planned to be a preacher’s wife, and prepared by offering to pray for her friends’... (full context)
Science and Religion Theme Icon
Self-Discovery, Identity, and Individuality Theme Icon
...was cleaning his room and discovered hidden pills. Years later, at his funeral, she told Gifty that she blamed herself for not doing more. Gifty refused to comfort her, although she... (full context)
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
This reminds Gifty of the Naked Egg experiment she did in middle school to learn about osmosis. Because... (full context)
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
In the present, Gifty and her mother aren’t talking. One night, when she goes to a party at Han’s... (full context)
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Still, Gifty remembers that not long after the Naked Egg experiment, her mother climbed into bed and... (full context)
Addiction, Depression, and Control Theme Icon
In the present, Gifty thinks about how she went into neuroscience because it is such a hard subject. After... (full context)
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
...broken bone that hadn’t been properly set, no longer strong or straight. In the present, Gifty goes home after the party to discover that her mother has been out of bed.... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...When Nana was in kindergarten, the Chin Chin Man would take care of him while Gifty’s mother worked. She became jealous of how close father and son were, although she herself... (full context)
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Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
In the present, Gifty looks at her mice in the lab and they remind her of the baby bird.... (full context)
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...simplistic way, and he chastised her for downplaying her intelligence and work. This memory reminds Gifty of telling her mother she wanted to be a scientist. On a visit home from... (full context)
Science and Religion Theme Icon
Self-Discovery, Identity, and Individuality Theme Icon
As Gifty returns the mouse to its cage, saying a small prayer that her experiments will work,... (full context)
Chapter 10
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
Gifty’s mother used to tell Gifty that she wasn’t a very good baby. Nana had been... (full context)
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But, when Gifty’s family had four members, their life was sweet. The Chin Chin Man, of whom she... (full context)
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In the present, Gifty’s mother is eating again, but not in front of Gifty, and only Amy’s Chunky Tomato... (full context)
Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
This makes Gifty think of Edward Tronick’s “Still Face Experiment,” which asks mothers to first interact with their... (full context)
Science and Religion Theme Icon
As a child, Gifty worried about a Bible verse, the words of which tell believers to pray without ceasing.... (full context)
Chapter 11
Science and Religion Theme Icon
In an excerpt from Gifty’s childhood journal, she tells God that she and Nana raced to the car after church,... (full context)
Chapter 12
Addiction, Depression, and Control Theme Icon
Gifty remembers watching a surgery that stimulates neurons in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease... (full context)
Science and Religion Theme Icon
Parkinson’s reminds Gifty of Mr. Thomas’s funeral, although she’s not sure if her memories of the day (she... (full context)
Science and Religion Theme Icon
That prayer, like all the others of Gifty’s childhood, ended with the words, “In Jesus’s name, amen.” Some of those prayers were offered... (full context)
Chapter 13
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When Nana started playing soccer, Gifty’s mother and father started fighting about food. Gifty wasn’t allowed to waste food or be... (full context)
Chapter 14
Addiction, Depression, and Control Theme Icon
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Gifty started dating Raymond—who was sexy, intoxicating, and a preacher’s son—during the first year of grad... (full context)
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Gifty’s parents began to fight daily, about money, chores, and the words of Scripture. The Chin... (full context)
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Adult Gifty thinks about how callous her mother is, reminding herself that calluses form over wounds to... (full context)
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The addicted mice are the most interesting to Gifty. During her mother’s second depression, she was trying to find ways to “turn on” the... (full context)
Chapter 15
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In Sunday School, Gifty was taught that sin was anything a person says, thinks, or does that goes against... (full context)
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Gifty thinks of Jesus’s words in Matthew telling his followers to love God with their hearts... (full context)
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Gifty has few memories of the Chin Chin Man, and most come from family stories. After... (full context)
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...out how much she’d sacrificed for the trip and how precarious the family’s situation was, Gifty’s mother sighed deeply. She told Nana that he didn’t have to play anymore. She walked... (full context)
Chapter 16
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Gifty asks Katherine to lunch. Gifty arrives early and takes her food to sit outside in... (full context)
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Katherine is 30 minutes late. There aren’t very many women in their department, and Gifty hasn’t felt the need to connect with them. She doesn’t understand Katherine’s commitment to being... (full context)
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Gifty doesn’t know what to do. In desperation, she had Pastor John pray for her mother... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Gifty’s sophomore year at Harvard was very hard. She struggled to collaborate in her Integrated Science... (full context)
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Gifty interrupted the group’s laughter to ask how they knew that God didn’t exist. Anne, whom... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Gifty has been saved and baptized in the spirit, but not in water. Nana was baptized... (full context)
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In the present, when Gifty’s wounded mouse dies, she blesses it. She realizes that she needs the mice more than... (full context)
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At home, Gifty tries to draw her mother out of her depression with music and by cleaning, believing... (full context)
Chapter 19
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In college, Gifty took a class on Gerard Manley Hopkins for her humanities requirement. Most science students took... (full context)
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Nana, in contrast to the younger, believing Gifty, was conflicted about God. Gifty recalls how he hated their church’s youth pastor, P.T. P.T.’s... (full context)
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P.T.’s desire to make God “hip” was aggressive. Gifty imagines him thinking Jesus was a club and that he was one of its bouncers.... (full context)
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Gifty was aware of the racism around her: the exploitation of hunger and suffering to get... (full context)
Chapter 20
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In two excerpts from her childhood journal, Gifty tells God that Nana told her Christianity was a cult that started before people knew... (full context)
Chapter 21
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Gifty walks into her apartment, which smells like oil, pepper, rice, and plantains: her mother is... (full context)
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...Chin Man left, her mother hosted a party for the Ghana Association of Alabama. Although Gifty and Nana were afraid that they’d be pitied by the others, they found themselves enjoying... (full context)
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...worrying about tetanus, and trying to outdo each other as they discuss Ghanaian folk remedies. Gifty’s mother took Nana to the kitchen, dipped a spoon in hot oil, and used it... (full context)
Chapter 22
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With fiber-optic cables attached to their heads for her experiments, Gifty’s mice look like they belong in a science fiction movie. When she mentions this to... (full context)
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Gifty remembers how Nana started playing basketball a year after he quit soccer. The physical education... (full context)
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Although they didn’t understand the game, Gifty and her mother were proud of Nana when they went to his games. But Gifty’s... (full context)
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Sometimes Gifty and Nana would play HORSE. One day, Gifty asks if Nana thought the Chin Chin... (full context)
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Adult Gifty thinks about a study that applied cognitive-behavioral therapy to basketball players to improve their success... (full context)
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Gifty would walk to the high school to watch Nana’s games, then they would walk home... (full context)
Chapter 23
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Because she dreads going home to find nothing changed with her mother, Gifty starts spending more time in the lab. She prefers the familiar boredom of her work... (full context)
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Gifty is allergic to the mice. She remembers a time in the first year of her... (full context)
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Gifty is more careful about handling the mice and washing her hands, and she rarely gets... (full context)
Chapter 24
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Gifty considers a recent study showing that schizophrenics in India and Ghana hear friendlier voices than... (full context)
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Remembering the ghost story gives Gifty an idea, and she starts to rub her mother’s back or squeeze her hand when... (full context)
Chapter 25
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Before her mother arrived, Gifty went to the campus bookstore and bought a Bible to keep on her mother’s nightstand.... (full context)
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...that the “Word” or “Logos” in the gospel meant something more like “plea” or “question,” Gifty felt stupid and betrayed. But she liked the ambiguity, too. (full context)
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In her junior year of college, Gifty heard a sermon about literalistic interpretation of the Bible by a female reverend. As a... (full context)
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...punitive and more forgiving, and the church was encouraged to be less judgmental, more open. Gifty understands that the Bible doesn’t change, but how people read it does. (full context)
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After P.T.’s sermon, Gifty became more fascinated with the idea of the Logos and with words generally. She realized... (full context)
Chapter 26
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...But it wasn’t just her: many other teens got pregnant that year, including five from Gifty’s church. At the time, her “sex ed” was religious in tone: she had been told... (full context)
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...taken to a former abortion clinic that’s been turned into a place for abstinence courses. Gifty and the other girls saw horrific images of STDs and were reminded that “covenant” agreements... (full context)
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Gifty’s memories switch back to the day she defended religion in Integrated Science. After class, Anne... (full context)
Chapter 27
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...records and attracted the attention of college recruiters. And he stopped going to church, so Gifty started going to “big church” instead of youth group to show her mother that one... (full context)
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Gifty doesn’t remember much about “big church” except the altar call. At the end of every... (full context)
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Gifty remembers a later time when Nana was trying to decide on a college. They had... (full context)
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The day of the Ridgewood game, their mother was at work, so Gifty sat alone in the bleachers working on her homework. As she tried to draw a... (full context)
Chapter 28
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Gifty is getting too attached to the limping mouse. She feels sorry for it. One day,... (full context)
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Gifty remembers how confused she was the first time she saw Nana high. He looked like... (full context)
Chapter 29
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The Sunday night after Nana’s accident, before they realized that his addiction was taking hold, Gifty’s mother was working, and Gifty went alone to church. The sermon was short and dull,... (full context)
Chapter 30
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The knowledge of her salvation made Gifty feel special, and she was perturbed when she told a classmate about it and learned... (full context)
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Gifty tried to put her salvation to use volunteering at the church. She was usually the... (full context)
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P.T.’s protégé was a kid named Ryan Green, whom Gifty didn’t like even though she didn’t yet know that he was the high school’s biggest... (full context)
Chapter 31
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...lives proceed in a straight line from birth to death, Nana’s drug-addled final years zig-zag. Gifty’s mother realized that he was hooked after two months, when he asked for a second... (full context)
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Gifty remembers Nana going through withdrawal, sweating so much that he drenched all his shirts, threw... (full context)
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Gifty’s mother was comfortable around death. She’d been there when one of her clients died, reading... (full context)
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While Nana was detoxing, their mother convinced him to go to church with her and Gifty. Gifty couldn’t stop staring at her brother; he looked better, and she was waiting for... (full context)
Chapter 32
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One of Gifty’s childhood journal entries explains that she learned at church that her friend’s mom won’t allow... (full context)
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Gifty recalls intuiting that addiction was contagious and shameful, so she and her mother should not... (full context)
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But Gifty doesn’t feel so noble. She remembers wishing Nana had cancer because that would have felt... (full context)
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After a short sobriety, Nana disappeared. Gifty imagined how tired he must have been of the pain of withdrawal, of everything. They... (full context)
Chapter 33
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In her scientific research, Gifty usually starts with an answer—a hypothesis—and then tinkers and experiments until she confirms or disproves... (full context)
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Gifty remembers her mother hitting Nana over and over, until Gifty stepped between them and took... (full context)
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It took Gifty a while to settle on her thesis project. She wasted time trying to avoid her... (full context)
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...stilted as ones with the Chin Chin Man, because he felt angry and betrayed. When Gifty and her mother picked him up at the end of the program, they stopped at... (full context)
Chapter 34
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Scientifically, Gifty understands that opioids work by flooding the brain with dopamine, which the brain craves. Eventually,... (full context)
Chapter 35
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In a childhood journal entry, Gifty tells God that she wishes Nana would die so that the whole ordeal would just... (full context)
Chapter 36
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From self-help books, Gifty knows that it’s necessary to talk about pain to move through it. But the only... (full context)
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After Nana’s relapse, Gifty’s mother got increasingly unrestrained at church. This fed gossip as people slowly realized that Nana’s... (full context)
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Now, Gifty understands much more about the institutionalized and individual racism she experienced. But as a child,... (full context)
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Overhearing the women’s words, Gifty wondered where God was in a church that couldn’t see her humanity or her brother’s... (full context)
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...became an addict, they were just as quick to blame him for the team’s losses. Gifty remembers them booing in the stands. (full context)
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Gifty clung to the Biblical words telling people to love God and to love their neighbors... (full context)
Chapter 37
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Now, Gifty wishes she could understand Nana’s addiction as if it were her own. Her journal is... (full context)
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It was easier when Nana was high, subdued, and distant. Once Gifty watched him shoot up, and now she can’t look at a needle without seeing him.... (full context)
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The night before Nana died, Gifty’s journal entry said: “Buzz looked tired but good!” Afterwards, it seemed like a mockery. That... (full context)
Chapter 38
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About a week after their lunch at the Thai place, Gifty runs into Katherine in the sandwich shop. For a long time, Gifty has gone out... (full context)
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Gifty finds herself confessing her inadvertent year-long celibacy to Katherine. She is surprised she said anything,... (full context)
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Katherine changes the topic, asking Gifty how she got into neuroscience. Thrown off guard, Gifty blurts out that her mother is... (full context)
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After Nana’s death, Gifty’s mother threw herself into planning a Ghanaian-style funeral, complete with mourning clothes for her and... (full context)
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Gifty never told her mother that she hated her mourning clothes from Ghana. At the funeral,... (full context)
Chapter 39
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...Chin Chin Man sent pictures of the Ghanaian funeral, which was filled with strangers to Gifty and Nana. When she learned that her father had only told people that Nana was... (full context)
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The Ambien made Gifty’s mother “loopy and mean.” She told Gifty, “You know I didn’t want another child after... (full context)
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...from her Ambien-induced sleep, she was confused. One day, she asked where she was, and Gifty told her she was at home in Alabama. Her mother went back to bed, declaring... (full context)
Chapter 40
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Gifty considers her mother in bed at 68 and remembers her mother in bed at 52.... (full context)
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...class of drugs called hypnotics, and when her mother fell into her depression, at first Gifty thought that her mother had been hypnotized. One morning, she couldn’t rouse her mother. She... (full context)
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Katherine starts dropping off homemade foods—cookies, pies, bread—at Gifty’s office. Gifty realizes that she’s not ready to need or accept help, really, but she... (full context)
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The first week that her mother was in bed, Gifty rushed home after school each day. She would find the sandwiches she’d made uneaten, and... (full context)
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One day, Han stops by Gifty’s office after Katherine dropped off a strawberry cake. He offers to get her something from... (full context)
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As a child, Gifty thought this story was too miraculous. She believed that Jesus could do it, but she... (full context)
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In college, Gifty read a philosophical examination of neuroscience that claimed that neuroscience can’t replace psychological explanations for... (full context)
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As an adult, Gifty understands that sometimes science fails, that its questions turn into philosophical hypotheses. She thinks that... (full context)
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Gifty remembers Anne asking if she believed in evolution. Their friendship was full of arguments and... (full context)
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...a mystery, but so is why some mice stop pressing the lever and others don’t. Gifty stopped believing in extravagant miracles after Nana’s death, but she still hoped for smaller ones,... (full context)
Chapter 41
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With her mother in the hospital, Gifty went to live in Pastor John’s bright yellow house, three blocks from the church. Their... (full context)
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At home, Gifty watched her mother warily, refusing to find herself “falling for” her recovery. But she was... (full context)
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In Ghana, Gifty met her Aunt Joyce. Before she arrived, she didn’t even know she had an aunt.... (full context)
Chapter 42
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The large Pentecostal church in which her mother grew up was overwhelming to Gifty, from the pastor shouting about spiritual warfare to the congregants dancing and “[falling] out in... (full context)
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One day, Gifty asked Aunt Joyce to take her to the Chin Chin Man. Gifty refused to embrace... (full context)
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...for the inability to find pleasure in customary activities—the primary symptom of major depression—is “anhedonia.” Gifty wants to understand the causes of this symptom, but she is aware that she only... (full context)
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...to most people, who want to believe that if they’re good enough, the bad things Gifty studies won’t happen to them. Even she feels that way sometimes. But no case study... (full context)
Chapter 43
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In an entry from her childhood journal, Gifty tells God that Nana made her dinner while their mother was at work. When she... (full context)
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In another entry, Gifty wishes God a Merry Christmas and describes her small part in the nativity play. She... (full context)
Chapter 44
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While Gifty was in Ghana, her mother healed in Alabama. Her anhedonia persisted, but her time in... (full context)
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Gifty understood that her mother needed healing, but not what she needed healing from. She had... (full context)
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Eventually, Gifty’s mother surfaced from her depression. The last time Gifty went to church in Ghana, she... (full context)
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At the airport in Ghana, Aunt Joyce wrapped Gifty into an enormous hug. Gifty realized that her aunt reflected what her mother could have... (full context)
Chapter 45
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Gifty was in fifth grade when Mrs. Palmer, one of her mother’s clients, died. She remembers... (full context)
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One morning, Gifty finds her mother getting dressed, ready to go see the lab. Gifty, unprepared for her... (full context)
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Watching her mother walk around the lab, Gifty thinks about Mahler’s “separation-individuation theory of child development,” which is the stage where babies become... (full context)
Chapter 46
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When Gifty looks at her mother and sees the spark of life beneath her illness, she thinks,... (full context)
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Gifty remembers her English professor lecturing on Gerard Manley Hopkins, specifically his concept of “inscape” or... (full context)
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Gifty ruminates on right and wrong, which is sometimes taught to children by their parents and... (full context)
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Gifty’s work tries to anticipate this human recklessness and find a way to avert it. And... (full context)
Chapter 47
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In a childhood journal entry, Gifty describes a contest with her friend Ashley to see who could hold their breath longer... (full context)
Chapter 48
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Gifty remembers being slow to experiment with recklessness and slow to make friends. Nana always had... (full context)
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Sometimes, Gifty wishes she had told on Nana, especially after a party not long after his injury... (full context)
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Gifty had her first alcoholic drink at a party in college, and she surprised everyone with... (full context)
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A few weeks later, Anne and Gifty drove to the woods to do mushrooms together. They spread a blanket in a clearing... (full context)
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Gifty’s relationship with Anne was intimate and romantic, if not fully sexual. But Gifty remained guarded... (full context)
Chapter 49
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In high school, Gifty had a week of terrible nightmares that she couldn’t remember. She didn’t want to worry... (full context)
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Gifty finally told Anne about Nana’s overdose the night before Anne was taking the MCAT. They... (full context)
Chapter 50
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Gifty’s mother is sitting up in bed. Gifty offers her breakfast, but all she wants is... (full context)
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At the lab, Han is celebrating getting a publication in Nature. Gifty brings him a cupcake and sings him a celebratory song. She realizes that she’s steeling... (full context)
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Anne used to call Gifty a control freak, in a loving way. The last text she sent said, “I love... (full context)
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Han breaks Gifty’s reverie by asking her on a dinner date. She tries to brush him off, but... (full context)
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Gifty’s mother had never returned to Ghana, and when Gifty had suggested it, her mother flatly... (full context)
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Gifty used to believe that God wouldn’t give her more than she could handle, but that... (full context)
Chapter 51
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After many requests, Gifty allows Katherine to visit her home. She knows that she’ll have to ask for and... (full context)
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To change the subject, Gifty mentions her journal and shamefacedly confesses that she grew up evangelical. Although Katherine says it’s... (full context)
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...day that her teacher said she believed that people are stardust from divinely created stars, Gifty laughed aloud. She told the teacher that this compromise belief system seemed too convenient. The... (full context)
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As Katherine leaves, she encourages Gifty to keep writing in her journal. (full context)
Chapter 52
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As Katherine leaves, Gifty checks on her mother, still unmoving in the bed. She goes to the lab, where... (full context)
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The laying on of hands was important in Gifty’s childhood church: when someone received prayer, it was administered through the hands of those nearest... (full context)
Chapter 53
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Gifty is writing her paper in earnest now and making good progress. While she works, she... (full context)
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Gifty remembers re-reading all her old journal entries before she went to college. They embarrassed her,... (full context)
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...entry, two weeks later, he confronted her. In the face of his hurt and disbelief, Gifty laughed. But it was a “mean and terrible” sound that scared them both; Raymond shivered... (full context)
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Gifty tells Katherine that she and her mother are fine. Katherine replies that she’s not trying... (full context)
Chapter 54
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After lunch, Gifty decides to give herself the afternoon off to take her mother to the beach. She’s... (full context)
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Gifty calls, “Ma!” as she searches the small apartment, specifically the bathroom. She runs outside but... (full context)
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Katherine drives over and she and Gifty begin to drive around the complex and the neighborhood while Gifty catalogues the bridges and... (full context)
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Katherine drives them home, where Gifty refuses her offer to stay. As Gifty’s fear dissipates, pity for her small, disheveled mother... (full context)
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Once Gifty’s mother is asleep, Gifty sneaks out of the house, despite feeling like she needs to... (full context)
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When they were children, Nana and Gifty used to sneak into the community’s gated pool—which their parents had refused to let them... (full context)
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Gifty drives around the city until it gets dark, then parks her car. She tells God,... (full context)
Epilogue
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Han and Gifty are a couple. He was with her when her mother eventually died of old age,... (full context)
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Usually Gifty is alone with Bob, the maintenance man who asks about her research in a winking... (full context)