In Transcendent Kingdom, food represents the desire and potential for connection and intimacy between people. Gifty instinctively connects food with intimacy, while rejecting food is something that gives a person power. To prepare for her depressed mother’s arrival, Gifty orders a Ghanian cookbook and deep fryer and practices cooking Ghanian recipes. Initially, she makes elaborate dishes trying to tempt her mother out of her emotional isolation. But Gifty’s mother repeatedly rejects Gifty’s offers and thereby refuses to connect with her daughter. This happens several times throughout the novel, first when Gifty’s mother becomes depressed the first time and doesn’t eat the peanut butter sandwiches young Gifty made. During her second depression, she ignores the koko Gifty lovingly prepares. Similarly, Gifty’s rejection of the breakfasts her boyfriend Raymond prepared demonstrates her fundamental inability to accept intimacy. The only person who she allowed to provide her with food was her brother, Nana, who used to help her find the goodies their mother hid in the house to keep the family’s food budget low.
The association between food and intimacy is an important part of Gifty’s developing friendships with Han and Katherine late in her grad school career. She buys Han a cupcake to celebrate his academic success, thereby reaching out to him and trying to make a connection. Later, wishing to keep Katherine out of her apartment, Gifty instead joins her for lunches around campus. Between these lunches, Katherine demonstrates her affection and care for Gifty with food, the dozens of cookies, breads, cakes, and pies she delivers to Gifty’s office. This ultimately forms the basis for Gifty and Katherine’s budding friendship.
Food Quotes in Transcendent Kingdom
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.
“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.