The main narrative of Transcendent Kingdom is punctuated by numerous entries from the childhood diaries of Gifty, the novel’s protagonist. In the novel’s present, the adult Gifty is a research scientist. A significant plot development in the present occurs when her mother, who is ill, comes to live with her. The reader sees Gifty coping with the changes in her adult life in part by re-reading old diary entries. The author uses the diaries to provide a context for the decisions that Gifty made, in both her personal and professional lives.
Gifty is showing as always having been an inquisitive person. One significant aspect of her child self was her frequent existential questions, wondering about the causes of things and the role of God. In her mundane reflections, the reader grows to know her attitudes toward her family members, especially her adoration of her brother, Nana, until he was destroyed and ultimately killed by drugs. Thus through the diaries help reveal how Gifty became a scientist conducting research on addiction.
Locating the child within her family and the Alabama community where she grew up also sheds light on the challenges of the immigrant experience and racism, as the family is Black and her parents had moved there from Ghana. Childhood experiences of racism connect with Gifty’s later realization about internalizing the negative self-image they generated. Learning that her father returned to Africa and her mother’s mental health declined, the reader understands why the mother later went to live with Gifty.