Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Published by Alfred A. Knopf on September 1st, 2020
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction
“But the memory lingered, the lesson I have never quite been able to shake: that I would always have something to prove and that nothing but blazing brilliance would be enough to prove it.”
If you haven’t read Homegoing yet, I urge you to borrow it from the library or get it at your local bookstore. It’s a stunning piece of work that I continue to think about from time to time. It’s never fully left my mind and I’m way overdue for a reread.
After the success of Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi has followed up with Transcendent Kingdom. Gifty is a fifth-year candidate in neuroscience at Stanford School of Medicine studying reward-seeking behaviour in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction.
Her brother, Nana, was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose after a knee injury left him hooked on OxyContin. Her suicidal mother is living in her bed. Gify is determined to use science to understand the suffering she sees around her.
But even as she turns to the hard sciences to unlock the mystery of her family’s loss, she finds herself hungering for her childhood faith and grappling with the evangelical church in which she was raised, whose promise of salvation remains as tantalizing as it is elusive.
I liked this book. I read it in a day and would read anything else Gyasi puts out.
Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to my love and appreciation for Homegoing.
Even though I’m far removed from the Black experience and I have limited knowledge of the Black diaspora, I still felt very connected to the characters in Homegoing.
It was a deeply layered novel. It was powerful, raw, and intimate. But I didn’t quite get that with Transcendent Kingdom.
Yes, Gyassi’s writing shines through here. She’s brilliant at crafting lyrical sentences and beautiful metaphors. In some sections, I was moved by Gifty’s memories of Nana. But overall, I’m left feeling empty about Transcendent Kingdom.
I can acknowledge that it’s a great novel even if I didn’t quite connect with it. I didn’t relate to Gifty’s inner turmoil of grappling with her faith. I suspect that this book will resonate more with readers who have a stronger tie to spirituality.
However, I will say that Gyasi did a wonderful job creating a thoughtful and moving portrait of familiar loss and addiction. It reminded me a lot of Dopesick in this way.
It was also interesting to see mental health and addiction dealt with from the mindset of an immigrant family.
These themes of making the move to America worth it and to pin all your dreams on your children is emotionally searing. And Gyasi captured that perfectly.
Even though I wasn’t swayed by the deeply religious aspect of the book, I did like to see Gify battle with where religion and science land in her life. It’s not a new concept, but I had never seen it before through the eyes of a POC.
And while I was never that great at science in school, I did find Gifty’s research to be very interesting. I wanted to learn more about her lab work and studies!
This didn’t replace Homegoing as my favourite Gyasi novel, but I will still recommend Gyasi’s work to anyone. But seriously, go check out Homegoing. Seriously. You won’t regret it.
Links followed by an “*” are affiliate links, which means that I can make a small commission through purchases and that helps to support me and my blog!