Transcendent Kingdom

by

Yaa Gyasi

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Nana is Gifty’s older brother; he dies of a heroin overdose when he’s a teenager. He was born in Ghana as and was his mother’s miracle child; after years of infertility she fasted and prayed for days, then found herself pregnant. It’s for Nana’s sake that she brought her family to the United States. Nana is a bright, happy, and athletic child. From a young age, Gifty looks up to and idolizes him. Because he’s six years older than her, Nana becomes her primary caregiver during her childhood, first as their parents’ marriage falls apart (when he protects her from overhearing their fights) and later, after the Chin Chin Man has returned to Ghana, while their mother works. Nana is perceptive. He works out on his own that their father isn’t coming back, and he is quicker to see the close-mindedness and racism in the way that Christianity is practiced in the family’s church. But he’s also prone to perfectionism (like Gifty) and there are signs of unaddressed hurt in his life long before he becomes addicted to opioids. For instance, he tries to tell himself that he doesn’t care about what his absent father thinks, even though it's clear that he does. And when he begins to play basketball, he spends hours and hours each day playing pickup games and shooting hundreds of practice shots in a row in the family’s driveway. When Nana is injured during a basketball game, he is given a prescription for OxyContin and becomes addicted. Initially, he approaches sobriety the same way he approached everything else in his life, with the belief that by his own efforts he can overcome the challenge. But he repeatedly fails to remain sober on his own, and he relapses within a day after leaving an inpatient rehab program. Nana’s death by accidental overdose causes Gifty’s loss of faith, their mother’s depression, and inspires Gifty to study science.

Nana Quotes in Transcendent Kingdom

The Transcendent Kingdom quotes below are all either spoken by Nana or refer to Nana . 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 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:
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 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 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 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:
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Nana Character Timeline in Transcendent Kingdom

The timeline below shows where the character Nana appears in Transcendent Kingdom. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
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Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
...complains that her mother (in the journal code-named “the Black Mamba”) sneaks up on her. Nana (codenamed “Buzz”) can do a good impression of her, sneaking around until he finds something... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...fasted and prayed for three days, Gifty’s father “lay” with her and nine months later, Nana was born. (full context)
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Everyone adored Nana. The Chin Chin Man was happy in Kumasi, but her mother wanted to go to... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...(the Black Mamba) is being mean to her. She also brags about her adored brother Nana (Buzz), who got her treats and stuck up for her in games. But over time,... (full context)
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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 he gets into the... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...fact and ordinary instead of exotic and desperate. A few months after her mother and Nana came to America, the Chin Chin Man joined them. Her mother was a home health... (full context)
Chapter 8
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When Nana was 15, their mother was cleaning his room and discovered hidden pills. Years later, at... (full context)
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...thinks about how she went into neuroscience because it is such a hard subject. After Nana’s addiction and her mother’s depression, she wanted to prove that she had no mental weakness.... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...about being one of two living tree-men that grew in a forest in Africa. When Nana was in kindergarten, the Chin Chin Man would take care of him while Gifty’s mother... (full context)
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...mice in the lab and they remind her of the baby bird. After she and Nana couldn’t get it to drink, they tried to encourage it to fly. When their mother... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Gifty’s mother used to tell Gifty that she wasn’t a very good baby. Nana had been a miracle and Gifty’s birth when her mother was 40 was in its... (full context)
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...herself on recordings from that time, she feels like she’s seeing another person. In one, Nana tries to tell their father a story while she babbles urgently in the background. Adult... (full context)
Chapter 11
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In an excerpt from Gifty’s childhood journal, she tells God that she and Nana raced to the car after church, and she almost won. She is sure she will... (full context)
Chapter 12
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...ended with the words, “In Jesus’s name, amen.” Some of those prayers were offered at Nana’s soccer games. The Chin Chin Man loved soccer for its dancing elegance and precision. Gifty... (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... (full context)
Chapter 14
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...He missed Ghana and wanted to go back home. But America was the only home Nana and Gifty had known. Eventually, their father went home to visit family and never came... (full context)
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...about coming back. But her mother never said anything bad about him and didn’t want Nana to hate him either. (full context)
Chapter 15
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...After he left, they tried to keep their lives the same for his eventual return. Nana started playing more soccer, earning a spot on the travel team. But once, when it... (full context)
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...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 with her children to the Greyhound... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Gifty has been saved and baptized in the spirit, but not in water. Nana was baptized as a baby in Ghana, where the attitude towards belief was “more is... (full context)
Chapter 19
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Nana, in contrast to the younger, believing Gifty, was conflicted about God. Gifty recalls how he... (full context)
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...thinking Jesus was a club and that he was one of its bouncers. One day, Nana challenged this “exclusionary God.” He asked about a hypothetical remote village in Africa that no... (full context)
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...based on the belief that some people were subhuman, no better than dogs. After this, Nana stopped going to youth group. (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 what cults were. And... (full context)
Chapter 21
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...oil, unbothered by it splashing. She asks if her mother remembers putting hot oil on Nana’s foot. Her mother turns to face Gifty, holding the strainer like a weapon. She says,... (full context)
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...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 the party... (full context)
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...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 to clean and... (full context)
Chapter 22
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Gifty remembers how Nana started playing basketball a year after he quit soccer. The physical education teacher suggested that... (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 mother was annoyed when people started to... (full context)
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Sometimes Gifty and Nana would play HORSE. One day, Gifty asks if Nana thought the Chin Chin Man would... (full context)
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...negative thought patterns with positive ones. She wishes she could know what was running through Nana’s head when they were kids, even though she can’t. But she imagines that his mind... (full context)
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Gifty would walk to the high school to watch Nana’s games, then they would walk home together. One night, as she said, “Good job, Nana,”... (full context)
Chapter 25
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...shunned intellectualism as a trap and sidestepped hard questions. That’s why P.T. had shut down Nana’s question about the villagers. (full context)
Chapter 27
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For Nana, basketball was a seasonless obsession. He went to basketball camp in the summer, played on... (full context)
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Gifty remembers a later time when Nana was trying to decide on a college. They had recently learned that the Chin Chin... (full context)
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...tried to draw a perfect picture of the anatomical heart, she heard a loud shout: Nana was lying on the ground, injured. She rode with him to the ER, not holding... (full context)
Chapter 28
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Gifty remembers how confused she was the first time she saw Nana high. He looked like he was half asleep, dreaming sweetly. But after days and weeks,... (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... (full context)
Chapter 30
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...know that he was the high school’s biggest drug dealer. He would ask her about Nana’s recovery, since the basketball team was suffering without him. In front of P.T., Ryan was... (full context)
Chapter 31
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If most 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... (full context)
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Gifty remembers Nana going through withdrawal, sweating so much that he drenched all his shirts, threw up constantly,... (full context)
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...morphine to ease her pain, and this was the purpose of drugs, their mother told Nana and Gifty. Gifty remembers her mother imitating a death rattle and telling her that she... (full context)
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While Nana was detoxing, their mother convinced him to go to church with her and Gifty. Gifty... (full context)
Chapter 32
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...church that her friend’s mom won’t allow her to play at Gifty’s house. She told Nana, but he didn’t care. (full context)
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...that addiction was contagious and shameful, so she and her mother should not talk about Nana with anyone. She didn’t talk until college when she confessed after a classmate wondered how... (full context)
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But Gifty doesn’t feel so noble. She remembers wishing Nana had cancer because that would have felt less shameful for her. She started researching addiction... (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... (full context)
Chapter 33
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Gifty remembers her mother hitting Nana over and over, until Gifty stepped between them and took one of the blows. This... (full context)
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The rehab program lasted for 30 days. After detoxing, Nana could call home on Fridays. These talks were as  stilted as ones with the Chin... (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 be over. (full context)
Chapter 36
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...about pain to move through it. But the only person she could talk to about Nana was her mother, who couldn’t handle it. She wrote to God about it instead, and... (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... (full context)
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After his relapse, nothing could protect Nana from people’s hate. When he was helping the team win, Pastor John and the church... (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 filled with an anthropological account,... (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... (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... (full context)
Chapter 38
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After Nana’s death, Gifty’s mother threw herself into planning a Ghanaian-style funeral, complete with mourning clothes for... (full context)
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...sang, questioning God while the Americans watched on, perplexed. Pastor John’s prayers assured everyone that Nana’s death was God’s plan. Gifty was keenly aware of how much Nana would have hated... (full context)
Chapter 39
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Trauma, Caretaking, and Intimacy  Theme Icon
...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 “sick,” she... (full context)
Addiction, Depression, and Control Theme Icon
...mother “loopy and mean.” She told Gifty, “You know I didn’t want another child after Nana,” and “I only wanted Nana and now I only have you.” Adult Gifty knows this... (full context)
Chapter 40
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...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, like her mother getting up. She created... (full context)
Chapter 42
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Addiction, Depression, and Control Theme Icon
...but she is aware that she only studies one part of the story. On paper, Nana’s anhedonia has so many possible causes: being Black, an immigrant, lower-middle-class, or coming from a... (full context)
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Addiction, Depression, and Control Theme Icon
...she feels that way sometimes. But no case study can capture the magnificent entirety of Nana, of any person. And when she felt that her brother was a waste, she was... (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 told him that a... (full context)
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...and describes her small part in the nativity play. She only had one line, but Nana gave her a standing ovation. (full context)
Chapter 45
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...try to be humane and responsible, sometimes they do. Gifty remembers the day she and Nana found the baby bird, remembers her mother telling them “There is no living thing …... (full context)
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...are separate beings, but they are both sometimes angered over reminders of their difference. After Nana’s death, when her mother couldn’t get out of bed, Gifty wanted her mother to be... (full context)
Chapter 48
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Gifty remembers being slow to experiment with recklessness and slow to make friends. Nana always had lots of friends, in part from being on sports teams. After he became... (full context)
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Sometimes, Gifty wishes she had told on Nana, especially after a party not long after his injury that included unfamiliar faces. She snuck... (full context)
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...and romantic, if not fully sexual. But Gifty remained guarded and unwilling to talk about Nana, because those stories all ended in his death. She told Anne one about painting Nana’s... (full context)
Chapter 49
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...awake watching TV. When that failed, she prayed. And when that failed, she talked to Nana. She told him all kinds of things, and the only rule was that she couldn’t... (full context)
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Gifty finally told Anne about Nana’s overdose the night before Anne was taking the MCAT. They slept together in Gifty’s bed... (full context)
Chapter 50
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...life is here.” Their life in America was the only connection she still had to Nana. And coming to America was, for Gifty’s mother, not all that different from the wild,... (full context)
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...believe that God wouldn’t give her more than she could handle, but that was before Nana’s death. That was too much. It took her a long time to understand that it’s... (full context)
Chapter 51
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...been able to give a straight answer to anyone about her belief in God since Nana’s death. (full context)
Chapter 53
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...for her adult life, one that didn’t talk about depressing things, like her mother and Nana. (full context)
Chapter 54
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...her childhood confidence that things happened according to divine order, a confidence that vanished after Nana’s death and her mother’s depression. She realizes that her mother’s suicide attempt felt like the... (full context)
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...and says, “Ebeyeyie,” it will be all right in Twi. It’s what she said to Nana when she bathed him during his withdrawal. Gifty doesn’t trust it: it was true then... (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... (full context)