Last Updated on February 17, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1393
In high school, four years after Nana died, Gifty experienced a phase in which she woke up from nightmares that she couldn’t remember. She chose to avoid sleeping and sneaked downstairs to watch TV. During this time, she started to speak to Nana aloud. Her mother found her one night, and they each revealed to the other that they talked to Nana regularly. Late in college, Gifty finally told Anne that Nana had died of an overdose. Anne cried all night after this conversation, which angered Gifty, because it was not Anne’s grief or suffering to claim. She cut Anne out of her life. When she missed Anne, she talked to Nana.
In the present, Gifty offers to miss work to spend time with her mother, but her mother tells her to go. At the lab, her colleagues are celebrating because Han has had an article published in a major scientific journal. After congratulating him, Gifty starts work for the day. She explains that she chose the lab for the care its scientists took in testing things over and over but that she was reaching the end of that process with her own experiments. Her repeated tests remind her of her desire for control, wanting to impose order on life experiences that make no sense to her. She describes the wonder that she felt when she first made a protein in a mouse’s brain glow. Her goal is no longer to feel that wonder again, but to move beyond it. Han comes by and asks her out, telling her that she needs to spend more time with people.
When Han asks about meeting her family, Gifty remembers that Raymond wanted to meet her family as well. She told him that they would go to Ghana with her mother, though she never actually meant to make it happen. After the fight with Raymond, she asked her mother if she ever wanted to go back to Ghana, but her mother said that her life was in Alabama. Gifty knew that her mother meant the memories and losses that made up her story were there. America was not what her mother had hoped it would be, yet her mother had pressed on and survived. Simply staying alive in the world is difficult, Gifty reflects, and surviving as a human being is a miracle in itself.
At Katherine’s insistence, Gifty invites Katherine over. They talk about Gifty’s diary and her religious upbringing. Embarrassment makes Gifty mock her own background, but Katherine affirms that trying to find spiritual connection is a good thing. In response to a question from Katherine, Gifty tells her that maybe she is still writing to God in some way. Since Nana died, though, she has never been able to give an answer with certainty when asked if she believes in God. She remembers a day in high school when her teacher made a statement that tried to meld science and religion; Gifty laughed at the time because it seemed so “convenient.” She knew she would not find the answers to how science and religion fit together in Alabama, but she did not realize until later that she would not find them anywhere. In the present, Katherine advises her to keep writing in her journal.
Gifty talks to her adviser about whether she should arrange to graduate soon, since her experiments are finished. He tells her to keep working on the article she is writing and that there is no need to rush. She thinks she should be excited to have successfully completed her experiments, but she feels empty instead. Writing a scientific article is unsatisfying to her because she cannot express the feelings she had while working with her mice. When she was a child in church, she remembers, people would physically touch someone they were praying for, as people had when she was saved. She reflects on being saved as a moment of admitting the need for grace. Grace, she thinks, can come in many forms—not all of them religious—but in all forms it is sweet.
Now working intensely on her article about her research, Gifty spends many long days writing. She has lunch with Katherine, who asks her whether she is still writing in her diary. When Gifty went off to college, she found her journals under her mattress. Reading them was such an intense and difficult experience that it led Gifty to resolve to become a different person. Writing in her journal became a regular habit again while she was in college. When she was dating Raymond, she became aware that he was reading her journal. So, she wrote in it that she did not intend to take him to Ghana, provoking a fight and ultimately their breakup after he read the entry. Back in the present, Gifty tells Katherine that she appreciates what she is doing but that Gifty and her mother are okay. Katherine replies that she just wants to be Gifty’s friend.
When Gifty arrives at her apartment, her mother is not there, and she is unable to find her. She calls Katherine, and they search together. They find her mother swimming in her pajamas and take her home. Gifty gives her mother a bath, just as her mother used to bathe Nana while he was detoxing. Her mother tells her that it will be alright, because God is with Gifty’s mother wherever she goes. After getting her mother to bed, Gifty drives to nearby San Francisco, not wanting to be around anyone or even hear her own thoughts. She remembers how she and Nana used to sneak into a pool together when their mother worked the night shift. One time, they had a conversation about whether God could see them. Nana called what they were doing “a nice sin.” In the present, sitting in her car, Gifty says aloud that her mother will get better and will see what Gifty makes of her life in the future. She fantasizes about coming home to her mother cooking, mentally begging for some kind of response from the universe before eventually driving home.
The chapter ends with an epilogue in the voice of an older Gifty, now married to Han and running a lab at Princeton. Her mother has died peacefully, with Gifty, Han, and her caretaker at her side. Gifty now has a habit of going to sit in the local church and look at the statue of Jesus on the cross. Though he knows and understands everything else about her, Han does not understand why she wants to do this, but he comes sometimes to support her. Gifty no longer seeks to discover “other worlds or spiritual planes,” finding holiness instead in living beings, especially her fellow humans. In the church, she never prays. She thinks, remembers, and tries to make sense of her life. When she leaves the church, she always lights two candles, one for her mother and one for Nana.
The final section serves to resolve some of the plot threads that have come up during the present day in the book. It answers key questions for the reader: what will happen to Gifty’s mother? Does Gifty’s experiment succeed? What will Gifty’s relationship with religion be later in life? What will her future look like? Will she find love and happiness?
Yet, at the same time, the author makes clear that none of the larger questions of the book are, or can be, truly resolved. Human beings will always ask them. Is there a God? How can we make sense of our lives? Why do people do things that hurt others? Do we ever truly heal from the traumas of the past? Can people change? Human beings constantly seek these kinds of answers. Yet the book suggests that neither religion nor philosophy nor science can provide complete understanding, just as Gifty continues to believe.
The epilogue shows Gifty still seeking answers. She looks for them both in a church, the place that brought her certainty as a child, and in the lab, the place where she discovers scientific truths about animals, humans, and the brain. In the relationships she has formed with others, she finds joy, holiness, and redemption—but she does not find answers.
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