Transcendent Kingdom Characters
The main characters in Transcendent Kingdom are Gifty, Gifty’s mother, and Nana.
- Gifty, the novel’s narrator and protagonist, is a Black neuroscience graduate student researching addiction treatment at Stanford by experimenting on mice.
- Gifty’s mother immigrated to Alabama from Ghana before Gifty was born. She comes to stay with Gifty while suffering from a deep depression.
- Nana was Gifty’s older brother and hero. Smart and talented, he became addicted to opioids as a teenager and eventually died of a heroin overdose.
Last Updated on February 17, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 892
Gifty, the narrator, is a Black graduate student in neuroscience at Stanford University. She is intelligent, ambitious, and reflective. The book is the story of how things came to be as they are in her life. Her parents moved from Ghana to Alabama before she was born. Very religious when she was young, Gifty grew to doubt her faith over time, especially after her brother died of a drug overdose and her mother sank into depression. She attended Harvard, where she discovered her interest in neuroscience. In the present day of the book, she is caring for her depressed mother while conducting graduate research at Stanford on how to treat addiction. As she tells the story, she uses her academic knowledge of the human mind and of institutionalized racism to explain the events of her life to the reader and herself.
Gifty’s mother, who is never named in the book, is strict, hardworking, and extremely practical. She immigrated from Ghana with Gifty’s older brother, Nana, when Nana was very young. Her husband, father to the boy and to Gifty, followed later on. They tried to make things work in America but suffered due to poverty and racism. Gifty’s mother fought hard for her family, but she was unable to save her son from his addiction. After his death, she fell into a deep depression and would not get out of bed. The present day of the book takes place during a similar period of depression, while Gifty tries to draw her mother back into living her life.
Nana was Gifty’s older brother and her idol. He was brilliant, popular, and extremely talented at sports. Growing up in Alabama, he experienced deep pain and anger from the racism targeted at him. His father’s return to Ghana and failure to come back to the United States as promised also created a lasting hurt in Nana’s life. At age fifteen, Nana injured his ankle during a basketball game. His doctor prescribed opioid painkillers. Almost immediately, Nana became addicted to the pills, and eventually he expanded his drug use to heroin as well. Gifty and her mother did their best to help him as he went through multiple cycles of detoxing and relapsing. His death from an overdose was a traumatic shock to Gifty and her mother, and its fallout continues into the present day of the book. The goal of Gifty’s experiments is to find a way to break an addiction like Nana’s.
The Chin Chin Man
Gifty’s father, nicknamed the Chin Chin Man for his favorite African snack, followed Gifty’s mother and their son to Alabama. He loves his children but consistently fails to be there for them. He was miserable in America because of the racism he experienced, and he permanently returned to Ghana when Gifty was very young. Though he had said he was coming back to the United States, and continued to say so for some time, his wife and children eventually had to accept that he never would. When Gifty was sent to Ghana during her mother’s first depression, he did not visit her. She went to her father and confronted him about the way they had suffered without him, but he refused to acknowledge or address anything she said. At the time of the book’s present, Gifty has not heard from him for years.
Han is Gifty’s labmate. Also a neuroscientist, he does work similar to Gifty’s, studying the mechanisms of reward and pleasure in the brain. At first he was very shy with Gifty, behaving awkwardly whenever they spoke about anything related to work. During the present day of the book, however, he and Gifty start to open up to each other, and he ultimately asks her on a date. In the epilogue, they are happily married.
Raymond is an ex-boyfriend of Gifty’s. He is also a graduate student, but in the humanities. Gifty found him very attractive and enjoyed his cooking, but she felt uncomfortable with his friends. He was also controlling and patronizing. The two ultimately broke up because Gifty would not take him on a trip to Ghana.
Anne and Gifty met at Harvard, where they became very close. Their relationship was ambiguous, not quite a simple friendship nor clearly a romance. They had many discussions about religion and science during college, as Gifty went through the process of examining her beliefs and deciding what she thought was true about the universe. Anne repeatedly encouraged Gifty to tell her about Nana. When Gifty finally told her he had died of an overdose, Anne cried all night. Gifty became angry because Nana’s death was not Anne’s tragedy to grieve. She cut Anne off entirely after that night.
Katherine is also a graduate student in neuroscience, but she used to be a psychiatrist. During the present day of the book, she and Gifty become friends. Katherine works hard to be there for Gifty and encourages Gifty to open up to her. She also respects Gifty when Gifty is reluctant to do so. When Gifty’s mother goes missing at the end of the book, Gifty calls Katherine, who comes right away. She helps Gifty find her mother and bring her home.
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