Book Reviews / Books

Transcendent Kingdom Book Review

07.07.21
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Having worked on the Women’s Prize for Fiction prior to leaving London for Sydney, it’s a prize I follow closely – and one whose shortlist I endeavour to read each year. I had already read The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet – an author who I was lucky enough to interview via Zoom one very early morning for the Bondi Literary Salon – when the shortlist was announced in April, and so the book I was most keen to read was Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. I had read her astonishing debut, Homegoing, while I was living in Bali in 2017, and the story of two sisters had stayed with me long after I had returned to Australia. Eager to see how her second offering compared, I swiftly moved it to the top of my reading pile, and tore through it in June.

Transcendent Kingdom Book Review

A poignant and powerful story that follows Gifty – 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 – whose family immigrated from a small town in Ghana to Alabama in order to pursue their own version of the American dream. They struggle to adjust, assimilate and integrate into the mainly-white Alabama society, and when Gifty’s brilliant brother, a rising basketball star, becomes addicted to opioids after a sports injury and her mother falls into a debilitating depression that will haunt her for decades – what follows is a tragic tale steeped in loss, addiction and grief.

A book that explores science and faith, racism and privilege, prayer, religion, grief, the weight of expectations, poverty, depression, and addiction and so, so much more, the characters are layered and well-crafted, the two timelines flawlessly interwoven, the immigrant experience perfectly depicted.  

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Transcendent Kingdom fuses a gorgeously woven narrative with exquisite writing and an unforgettable cast of characters to deliver a compelling tale that is ultimately an exploration of grief, of longing and of the search for meaning.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi Summary

Yaa Gyasi’s stunning follow-up to her acclaimed national best seller Homegoing is a powerful, raw, intimate, deeply layered novel about a Ghanaian family in Alabama.

Gifty is a fifth-year candidate in neuroscience at Stanford School of Medicine studying reward-seeking behavior 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. Gifty is determined to discover the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all 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. Transcendent Kingdom is a deeply moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants ravaged by depression and addiction and grief–a novel about faith, science, religion, love. Exquisitely written, emotionally searing, this is an exceptionally powerful follow-up to Gyasi’s phenomenal debut.

Buy Transcendent Kingdom  from Bookshop.org, Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon or Amazon AU.

Further reading

I adored this article on The New Yorker: Yaa Gyasi Explores the Science of the Soul.

Yaa Gyasi Author Bio

YAA GYASI was born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. She holds a BA in English from Stanford University and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she held a Dean’s Graduate Research Fellowship. She lives in Brooklyn.

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More Yaa Gyasi Books

Homegoing is the debut historical fiction novel by Ghanaian-American author Yaa Gyasi, which was published in 2016.

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