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Transcendent Kingdom

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2020)
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.

264 pages, Hardcover

First published August 31, 2020

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About the author

Yaa Gyasi

10 books12.6k followers
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.

YAA GYASI is available for select speaking engagements. To inquire about a possible appearance, please contact Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau at speakers@penguinrandomhouse.com or visit prhspeakers.com.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 16,059 reviews
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews116k followers
September 12, 2020
A really sad and thoughtful piece that questions religion and science in the face of familial loss and addiction. Though the book didn’t quite hit me as hard personally, I still think there’s a lot of emotional depth within the writing and felt a lot of sympathy for the protagonist and her family. Since the book is largely composed of the protagonist’s thought process and her internal journey grappling with her faith, perhaps readers who have a closer tie to spirituality might resonate more strongly with this book.
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 120 books159k followers
June 24, 2020
Absolutely transcendent. A gorgeously woven narrative about a woman trying to survive the grief of a brother lost to addiction and a mother trapped in depression while pursuing her ambitions. Not a word or idea out of place. Completely different from Homegoing. THE RANGE. I am quite angry this is so good.
Profile Image for chai ♡.
321 reviews156k followers
October 26, 2022
I read this book in one single setting through an intense, insomniac lull and it was—for lack of a better word—a religious experience. Deeply ruminative, relentlessly searching and immensely moving, Transcendent Kingdom is the story of a young woman and her quest to find her way back to herself, and to her mother, through a thicket of ghosts crowding both their lives. Not to be missed!
Profile Image for Yun.
521 reviews21.7k followers
December 31, 2020
According to the book jacket, Transcendent Kingdom is a "deeply moving portrait," a "profound story about race," "depression and addiction." And that's what I wanted. I wanted an interesting story that can tie these different and complex topics together and offer me insight that I can take with me long after I've finished this book. But I'm sorry to say I didn't get that.

For all these worthy topics, the book hardly devotes much effort to them. They are sprinkled haphazardly across the pages, a little bit here, a little bit there. No doubt all the right words are said, but it feels so superficial and convenient. (For example: Gifty goes to med school, but not just any school, it's Stanford. Before that she was at Harvard, and afterwards, she ends up at Princeton. Her brother gets addicted to drugs, but not just any drug, it's OxyContin, and he does so after a sports injury.) The distillation of these characters down to their most stereotypical forms makes the treatment of these difficult subjects never feel more than skin deep.

Instead, almost the entire book is pretty much a big pile of pondering about mainly religion and a little bit of science, thinly disguised as a story. But like all ruminations, we are treated to a lot of thoughts without any insight. Gifty spends all this time and effort trying to reconcile the role that religion and science has in her life and her grief. But she never seems to get anywhere, just going in circles and circles. These passages have a stream-of-consciousness style, so it often feels like I'm reading entire entries lifted from a diary without having seeing the red pen of an editor.

I had a lot of trouble relating to this book, in particular its religious element. The book spends a lot of time quoting the Bible, or referencing the Scripture, or using prayer as the sole means to fix issues. Though the book jacket tries to sell this as a spiritual portrayal, it comes across as decidedly (organized) religious to me. In fact, Gifty even talks about exactly that at one point, that she believes in the specific God of the Bible and that the Bible should be taken literally, instead of having a more nebulous belief in a higher being that those who are spiritual would believe.

But even the science part rubbed me the wrong way. Those passages, while having the potential to be interesting, instead feel extremely clinical and detached. It's as if it's written by a robot, instead of a real person with hopes and feelings. And instead of reconciling between science and religion where the two meet halfway, it's almost entirely one-way, with Gifty trying to understand science through the eyes of religion and God, but not vice versa.

Another problem is that Gifty isn't a very sympathetic character. Imperfect characters are ok, as long as they show growth through their narrative. But Gifty never does. The adult version of her sounds exactly like the young version of her that she reminisces about. She comes across as extremely self-righteous about her beliefs, expecting that others be understanding of her when she isn't understanding of them. She seems bent on suffering alone, as if that is a noble pursuit. And when people she cares about tries to reach out to her, she is mean to their face.

The writing style doesn't help either. It reads like a memoir, with Gifty looking back on her life, but it feels detached and emotionless. Since the anecdotes are told in retrospect instead of in the moment, the summaries of those memories come across as heavily telling, and hardly any showing. They're also interspersed throughout instead of chronological, so it adds to the chaotic and rambling feeling of the book.

To say I'm disappointed is an understatement. There are so many things that just didn't work for me, including the writing style, the content, and the execution. I have been looking forward to this ever since I read Homegoing, probably one of my favorite books of all time. But this book is so different that I don't think there is any similarities. If you're wondering whether to give this a go, I'd recommend reading the book blurb to see if it appeals to you, instead of going off of your feelings for Gyasi's previous work.
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,302 reviews43.9k followers
November 23, 2022
This book just ruined me! I barely breathe, breaking out in sobs. I have to pull myself together! Come on, stop crying. Here comes hiccups! I have to breath in and breath out! Wow! This is one of those books ripping your heart and changing your view and your emotional state at the same time. You don’t stay as the same person. You evolve, you hurt, you grow up, you get more open minded.

This is a poignant, original, tear jerking, heart clenching story of a family who immigrated from small town of Ghana to Alabama for realizing their better life dream. They struggle to adjust, assimilate, be a part of society.

Gifty, younger daughter of the family is our narrator, who is overshadowed by her popular, talented athlete brother Nana who is also favorite child of her mother.

Chin Chin Man, the father of the family joins them later but he cannot keep his janitor work. He decides to go back to Ghana for a while to visit his family but he never returns back.

And Nana gets injured during his practice so he slowly gets addicted to OxyContin. Even though he starts getting calls from major universities, having a bright future ahead, he starts suffering from mood swings. His mother tries to help him by sending him treatment camp. She keeps praying and praying but nothing works. Finally one day they find the officer at their door to tell them the earth shattering news: Nana is overdosed.
Gifty not only loses her brother, her hero, her best friend, she also loses her mother at the same day. Her mother deals with her depression, slowly fading away as Gifty does whatever she can to raise herself alone and take care of her mother.

Now Gifty is working hard to be neuroscientist, studying at Stanford School of Medicine. She wants to focus on reward seeking behavior to understand why her brother died and what is still happening to her mother. She loses her belief to God and religion. She wants answers and in her opinion, only the science, the concrete facts can give the proper explanations to their bottled up questions.

This book bravely questions faith, religion, our beliefs, struggling mental states and the different ways to handle your grief, racism, assimilation, finding your own truth and path throughout your challenging life journey.

It’s pure, heartbreaking, intense and honest. The layered, well crafted characterization, unique, genuine, riveting writing style captivate you from the beginning.

No more words! I liked the author’s previous work “ Homegoing” a lot but I think I fell in love with this new book! I loved it more. One of the best 2020 fiction reading of the year.

Profile Image for Alok Vaid-Menon.
Author 10 books19.8k followers
November 2, 2020
i’ve been friends with yaa for over decade. in college when she would deliver a poem on sunday mornings to our poetry collective, there would be this collective hush, like the world stopped rotating on its axis for a second. i hope to convince you that yaa is gravity personified. when she writes, matter follows.

applause is overrated. silence is the best response to good art. no word or sound does justice to the feeling of ground — that thing we thought was permanent — becoming dislodged beneath our feet.

it’s always frustrated me how writers of color get pigeonholed into identity. it’s a form of captivity: they keep us on one shelf, deny us the library. somehow our humanity is abbreviated because we are honest not just about the color of the sky, but the color of our skin. (and yours.) yaa not only writes about Blackness & gender, she writes about being alive. loving, losing, longing.

i think we often forget that in order for words to make sense there have to be spaces between them. in order to speak we have to break for breath. yaa’s force resides in the interstitial zone between words & worlds: it’s not always about her dazzling prose. sometimes she just creates a space to cry, imagine, feel. that’s an essential part of the novel: not just what she writes, but what she doesn’t. what she conjures.

in “transcendent kingdom,” she doesn’t enumerate a biography of the wound. she stages intermitted scenes of the wear-and-tear of grief, not in a way that encourages us to fill in the blanks, but to feel the blanks. to accept that grieving is the most non-linear love story. it hiccups, goes in retrograde. it is most often understated, the opposite of cinema. we come to know it in its effects. its circuitous routes. like fallen leaves we find ourselves raked elsewhere.

finishing this novel, i was left wanting more. that’s the point. because grief: it leaves you wanting. it’s a yearning that can never be satisfied. this is the triumph of the novel, it tells the story of a yearning with known origins, and unknown destination. where do we go when the things that happen to us, they become us?
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,172 reviews8,379 followers
September 28, 2020
[3.5 stars]

“What’s the point of all of this?” is a question that separates humans from other animals. Our curiosity around this issue has sparked everything from science to literature to philosophy to religion. When the answer to this question is “Because God deemed it so,” we might feel comforted. But what if the answer to this question is “I don’t know,” or worse still, “Nothing”?

Transcendent Kingdom is a story of grief, of struggling to find meaning in the seemingly meaningless. At times it tiptoes around despair and at others it plunges you headfirst into it.

There are images in this story—like that of a mother and daughter attempting to lift their drug-addled son/brother into a car while pedestrians helplessly watch—that will stick with me for a very long time. There are themes explored in this story—like the internal struggle of a young person unlearning everything they were raised to believe, like science versus religion—that I myself have wrestled with. There are sentences in this story—“If I’ve thought of my mother as callous, and many times I have, then it is important to remind myself what a callus is: the hardened tissue that forms over a wound. And what a wound my father leaving was.”—that pack a gut-wrenching punch.

And despite all of that, something didn’t quite land for me.

No doubt Yaa Gyasi understands people. Her debut Homegoing was one of the best books I’ve read in the last five years. The structure was taut and allowed for her creativity to flourish within the confines of a historical tale, leaving room for characters to breathe and move on the page. In similar ways, Gyasi does the same thing here. Gifty is one of the most fully realized characters I’ve read about in some time. She is experimenting, finding herself, all the unsavory bits we keep hidden in the dark, especially after trauma. She is mean and spiteful, but tender and desperately needing affection. It’s a complex portrait of recovery that takes years, even a lifetime, to master.

I think what lost me in this novel, however, was the structure. It’s amorphous, jumping around in time and space like the frenzied mind of someone trying to cope with loss, latching on to memories as they surface and unpacking them for the reader. While it logically makes sense for the story Gyasi is telling, it was hard at times to feel rooted in Gifty’s work, because she too often feels unmoored.

Perhaps on a re-read, I would find my footing better. This is definitely a book that I appreciate, respect, admire, more than I love. Gyasi continues to prove her skills as a character-crafter and sentence-writer, but unfortunately the storytelling in this left something to be desired.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,404 reviews11.7k followers
September 24, 2020
I feel uncharitable criticizing a book so personal to the author and so relatable to me (I wish I didn't live through some, a lot of this), but I think this novel would have been better written a couple of decades later in Gyasi's career, with more perspective, life experience and knowledge.

Transcendent Kingdom reads so deeply felt when it talks about Gifty's family's struggles and complex relationships in both America and Ghana, and yet so immature and pedestrian when it tries to tackle questions of science and religion, or anything really. Every factoid about opioids addiction or treatment of mental illness, intersection of religion and science or sexism and racism in academia is of the quality of a high school report. These subjects have been written on by better authors with more insight. Reading about these issues in this novel made me think it was meant for a YA audience (not an insult, just an observation).

This is a novel that tries to be about many complex and important things, but succeeds only at being a story of a woman of Ghanaian heritage who's been through a lot of familial turmoil, IMO.
November 12, 2020
4.5 stars

”Homo sapiens is the only animal who believed he had transcended his Kingdom.”

Gifty’s parents immigrated to Alabama from Ghana before she was born, and Gifty, now in her late 20s, is a PhD candidate in neuroscience at Stanford University studying reward-seeking behavior in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction.

Personal experience drives her quest. Nana, her brilliant brother, a rising basketball star, became addicted to opioids after a sports injury. The addiction costs him his life (the townspeople aren’t surprised – it’s to be expected from “their kind”). Her mother falls into a debilitating depression that will haunt her for decades.

The racism Gifty and her family grew up with in the South has given her even more motivation to succeed: to prove the townspeople wrong. The story alternates between the present and to her childhood. She grew up in poverty with an absentee father and a harsh, hard-working mother who struggled to show love.

“If I've thought of my mother as callous, and many times I have, then it is important to remember what a callus is: the hardened tissue that forms over a wound.”

Gifty adored her brother and watched helplessly as his bright star was dimmed by addiction. Still very young when he died, she prayed fervently and poured her heart out to God in her journal. With no one to guide her, she loses hope and her faith dims. She decides to pour her energies into science.

“…it‘s easier to write all addicts off as bad and weak-willed people, than it is to look closely at the nature of their suffering… there is no case study in the world that could capture the whole animal of my brother, that could show how smart and kind and generous he was, how much he wanted to get better, how much he wanted to live.

“The truth is we don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t even know the questions we need to ask in order to find out, but when we learn one tiny little thing, a dim light comes on in a dark hallway, and suddenly a new question appears. We spend decades, centuries, millennia, trying to answer that one question so that another dim light will come on. That’s science, but that’s also everything else, isn’t it? Try. Experiment. Ask a ton of questions.”

This is a beautiful look into the immigrant experience, the weight of expectations, racism, poverty, depression, and addiction. But at its heart it’s an exploration of grief and the search for meaning. The brain wants the hard facts of science but the seeds of faith in Gifty’s heart wants an answer, even as she struggles against the fundamentalism faith of her childhood. Perhaps it’s not science vs faith but both?

Neither the science or the religion is heavy-handed or preachy. This is a brilliantly written book with a tone that perfectly captures Gifty’s emotions and the trauma she has survived. The prose is luminous and I gave my book darts a heavy workout. I was moved by Gifty’s story and was rooting for her from beginning to end.

Highly recommended!

*this was a buddy read with my friend Marialyce, which generated thoughtful discussions. It would make a great book club pick.
** for our duo review please visit https://yayareadslotsofbooks.wordpres...
Profile Image for Reading_ Tamishly.
4,452 reviews2,399 followers
March 19, 2022
I haven't read the first book by the author but once I started reading this latest release, I got completely hooked!

This is the story of Gifty who now works as a PHD candidate doing research on mice regarding addiction and drug dependence.

The story goes back and forth how she grew up with her mom, her brother and her almost absent dad. The story is centred on depression, racism and discrimination, poverty, a dysfunctional family, drug addiction, death, grief and religion.

This story is heartbreaking. But I feel like the main character is developed in such a way as if to tell whatever hardships come, you have to face them head-on. I love her character. She isn't perfect; she isn't your outspoken female character but what she's is what she is - single handedly took care of her career and her difficult mother till the end.

It tries to tell that as long as you succeed, everybody's your well-wisher. But the moment you lose, everyone just stops caring even if you drop dead. Yes, that's the case here.

The important lesson I learnt from this is that even if you have a toxic family, there's nothing else that's more important than your family. Even if you want to escape and run away, the best is to do something for yourself alongside supporting your family when they need you.

Trigger warnings for drug misuse, addiction, suicidal tendency and self-harm, domestic violence

The writing is beautiful. However, I feel the book could have ended better.
Profile Image for emma.
1,866 reviews54.3k followers
April 12, 2021
Yaa Gyasi makes me speechless.

That's the only conclusion I can come to. That's why I waited a month to write this review, and I still don't know what to say. That's why I took forever to review Homegoing and ended up only writing about how I had no words.

She's just that good. That's all I've got.

Bottom line: Why read what I'm writing when you can skip ahead to the good stuff?


impossible to believe this is the same author as Homegoing. in the best way. how does one brain contain so many kinds of brilliance?

review to come / 4ish stars

currently-reading updates

and i needed 6 months to get around to picking this up, apparently

tbr review

clear my schedule for the rest of the week. i need at least 3 business days to stare lovingly at this cover
Profile Image for BookOfCinz.
1,422 reviews2,546 followers
December 16, 2020

I finished reading this book four days ago and my heart is still aching. I still cannot stop thinking about the characters, about the writing about the greatness I just read. I am suffering from the biggest book hangover from one of my favorite books of 2020.

In Transcendent Kingdom Yaa Gyasi’s second novel we meet a Ghanaian family living in Alabama. The story is told from Gifty’s perspective, she takes us into the world of her immigrant family and shows us how they moved from being together to things falling apart. Gifty’s parents met in Ghana, her mother decided America would be a great place to raise a family. She works hard and sends for the father who Gifty refers to as Chin Chin man. The father comes to Alabama but does not climatize as the rest of the family, for him, America is not all that it is cracked up to be. He tells his family he will be visiting Ghana but never returns.

ifty’s brother Nana is a star athlete who bring victory upon victory to his home team. He performs so well he starts getting calls from major universities to play for them. Nana’s life is on track for greatness, until one day after an injury he is placed on bedrest and told to take OxyContin which he gets addicted to. Gifty and her mother tries everything in their power to help Nana recover from this addiction, he goes to a treatment camp, they pray for him, nothing works. A police man visits to let the family know Nana overdose.

With the Chin Chin man in Ghana, Nana dead, Gifty and her mother is now a family of two, but with the mother barely present. She goes through significant bouts of depression, Gifty is left to raise herself. She manages to submerge herself in the sciences and ends up being a candidate in neuroscience at Stanford School of Medicine. Gifty intends to study reward seeking behaviour as a way to understand what happened to her bother and is currently happening to her mother.

A major theme in this book is faith and religion and I think it was theme that was executed with excellency. As Christian I felt the book does a great job of showing us realistic way people’s faith gets tested and why some turn away from God. I was blown away by the accuracy and poignancy as the author’s exploration of faith and belief. The mother-daughter theme was beautifully portrayed in such layered and nuanced way. At times my heart broke for Gifty and how her mother handled the death of her son, and the suffering of her daughter.

Honestly, I could go on and on about this book. I went in expecting to be underwhelmed or comparing this to Homegoing but I was SHOOK at how Gyasi took a total 180 and brought us something fresh, excellent and real.

If you are looking for your next favourite book- THIS IS IT!!!

Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews596 followers
September 15, 2020
Audiobook... read by the brilliant Bahni Turpin

Yaa Gyasi is insanely talented!!
This book shimmers from start to finish! Loved, loved, loved it!!!

Highly addictive enjoyable novel.
It’s hilarious and intimate...
sad but bouncy ....

Contemporary American life - dealing with issues of immigration, a Ghanaian family— from Alabama to California—
a look at education, God, Faith, science, religion,
growing up ( funny bone laughs), dating,
loneliness, loss, grief, guilt, racism, identity, addiction, mental health issues of depression, (without the reader getting depressed), forgiveness, trips down memory lane, psychologically astute....
an array of
lushly woven tapestries of intoxicating - translucent -
seductive storytelling treasures!

Captivating with imperfect characters —
One moment I was laughing out loud — and in the next my little heart hurt.

Many creative juicy scenes are emotionally felt.
....From a naked egg experiment with corn syrup to learn the principles of osmosis....
....To a date at The Tofu House in Palo Alto ....
....A party at a lab partners house ....
....There are many precious jewels in this wonderful world of fiction.

Yaa Gyasi is becoming a favorite author!!!

From Alabama to California— rich and fully alive!!!
5 strong stars *****
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,519 reviews8,984 followers
December 29, 2020
4.5 stars

Ugh yes Yaa Gyasi has the range and I love that for her! While her debut novel Homegoing followed seven generations, in Transcendent Kingdom we delve deep into one immigrant Ghanaian family living in Alabama, in the United States. The story focuses on Gifty, a fifth-year doctoral candidate in neuroscience at Stanford whose brother died of a heroin overdose after sustaining a knee injury playing high school basketball. Soon after, Gifty’s mother tries to die by suicide, before settling into a severe depression. We follow Gifty as she tries to figure out what to do when her mother comes back to live with her in California after a long stay in Ghana. Gyasi uses flashbacks to give us a closer look into Gifty’s past experiences with her family and how they have affected her in the present.

I so appreciated how Gyasi tackles so many freaking important topics yet somehow managed to do them all justice: science, religion and faith, addiction, racism, grief, and more. All of these topics bled into each other in such beautiful and painful ways and elevated my investment in the novel. I will highlight two of the most standout features of this novel that motivated me to round up to five stars. First, I felt that Gyasi did a fantastic job exploring the tension between religion and science from within Gifty’s perspective. Even as an agnostic atheist, my heart clenched reading some of the passages about Gifty’s relationship with faith and how much it both meant to her and let her down sometimes. Her wrestling with religion felt so nuanced and so grounded within her own life unique experiences; Gyasi highlights how faith and science can co-exist in a way that honors people of color’s worldviews while also acknowledging the benefits and applications of science.

I also loved, loved, loved how Gyasi portrayed how Gifty’s grief and trauma affected her intimate relationships. The way she used flashbacks to show how Gifty shut herself off from Anne and Raymond because she had not processed at all her brother’s death – wow, truly an insert chef’s kiss meme/emoji level of skill. I think I literally sighed in pleasure (yes, I derive that much enjoyment from characters’ emotional healing/growth processes) reading Gifty’s gradual and powerful opening up to her friend Katherine and her lab mate Han. There was one scene in particular where Gifty speaks to Han and within that same scene flashes back to an earlier interaction with Raymond and my goodness, I had to put my Nook down for a second just to let myself fully appreciate Gyasi’s quality of writing.

The only reason I lean toward 4.5 stars is because for the beginning and some of the middle of the book I felt a bit of a distance from Gifty. Yes, I think the distance makes sense given that, especially in the beginning of the book, Gifty puts distance between herself and everyone. However, I felt remember feeling similarly reading Gyasi’s Homegoing . At times I almost felt like I was reading a more intellectual script of a character than actually feeling immersed in the character’s lived experience, like a sense of “ah, so in this passage Gyasi is showing Gifty coming to terms with how she shouldn’t have judged her brother’s addiction or “ah, this passage depicts how Gifty always recognized her second-place spot next to her brother.” However, I do think this worked out more in Gyasi’s favor with this novel given Gifty’s coping strategy of distancing herself and compartmentalizing. Toward the latter half of the novel I felt much more pulled into her life and her emotional experience.

Overall, another amazing novel by Yaa Gyasi and I’m looking forward to reading what she writes next. I didn’t touch on these components as much in this review, but I also felt impressed by how she depicted the role of racism in making the Black men in Gifty’s life so insecure and damaged. I’m teaching a course (my first course as instructor of record, wowow) that’s gonna focus on addiction starting next week and thus also appreciated how Gyasi wrote about the feelings of stigma and shame that accompany having a loved one with a substance use disorder. Ugh, again, such a great book and would totally recommend to those who enjoy fiction at all.
Profile Image for Paris (parisperusing).
187 reviews24 followers
August 12, 2020
“Nana’s addiction had become the sun around which all our lives revolved. I didn’t want to stare directly at it. … She thought the problem would just go away, because what did we know about addiction? What, other than the ‘just say no campaigns,’ was there to guide any of us through the jungle of this?”

In her sophomore novel, Transcendent Kingdom, Yaa Gyasi sorely demonstrates the pressures Black youth must come to terms with when forced to “do the hardest thing,” to do more than what is humanly and emotionally possible to save a family, even if that means breaking ourselves past the limits of flesh and bone. Such is the dilemma of a young Ghanaian woman named Gifty who, endeavoring toward her Ph.D. in neuroscience, bears the heaviest cross of all as the storyteller of her family’s ruin — from the terrible trajectory of her beloved brother Nana’s war with addiction to her mother’s paralyzing attempted suicide. At 28, Gifty already carries the weight of both the living and the dead on her shoulders. With her brother gone, her mother silenced, and her father absconded across the pond, Gifty must salvage the bones of her past, present, and future with little more than hope and love to lead the way. In her pained attempts at finding closure in her faltering Evangelicalism and in performing restraint and reward experiments on lab mice, Gifty discovers a reason to push forward, to live and let go of what haunts her, while forging a future that is entirely her own. Written with the tenderness and tenacity of Jesmyn Ward and Jacqueline Woodson, I could not imagine anyone but Gyasi to lay bare the austerities of mental health and addiction in the Black family. If Homegoing made Gyasi a marvel, Transcendent Kingdom will make her legendary.
Profile Image for David.
296 reviews752 followers
October 6, 2021
Transcendent Kingdom is an intimate portrayal of the second-generation immigrant experience as well as the ravages of opioid abuse. Yaa Gyasi has found her voice and was in full command of the work. The pacing is perfect and the structure brilliant, with past and present seamlessly woven together.
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,707 reviews25k followers
January 4, 2021
A powerful and exquisitely written character driven novel that touches on the fundamental philosophical questions of life and family life by Yaa Gyasi. It focuses on the trauma and devastation wreaked on a Ghanaian family living in Alabama. The flawed Gifty is a Stanford PhD neuroscience researcher looking for answers to human suffering in science, looking to reconcile it with the childhood religious faith and beliefs that she grew up with in a narrative that goes back and forth in time. She is weighed by the heavy burden of grief, the loss of her beloved brother, Nana, a talented athlete whose life was derailed after an injury that culminated in a heroin overdose. Her father went back to Ghana and never returned, leaving Gifty with only her depressed and suicidal mother. This is an outstanding, thoughtful, and hopeful read that details the struggles of the immigrant experience, such as the racism and poverty, family, loss, and grief that is heartbreaking. Many thanks to Penguin UK for an ARC.
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
505 reviews1,479 followers
July 11, 2021
This was a dense, emotional read.

It’s about faith being tested, about feeling God failed you when you needed him the most. It’s about turning your back on your faith and believing only science can provide the answers but then learning it doesn’t always.

It’s about being transcended into this story. One of loss, religion, mental illness, addiction, discrimination.
It’s about a family who immigrated to America from Ghana to Alabama. This is the story of Gifty, born an American, who is a PhD candidate in neuroscience and it’s her reflection of her family’s life and the faith and science behind the decisions made by her mother, father, brother and herself.

It’s a tragedy where all the dots are connected. From the death of her brother due to opiate use, to the depression her mother suffered from because of it. It’s Never being able to live up to her mother’s expectations as her dead sibling not only took his life when he overdosed, but robbed Gifty of a mother.

The shame that surrounds addiction and the lack of understanding that in and of itself, addiction is an illness. The frustration of a blossoming life of a brother who was a good friend, coming into his own, until drugs entered his life.
Gifty wanted answers. The scientific kind that could make sense as God had failed her in not saving Her brother.

The reward/gratification system in the brain that addicts have. The research Gifty studies to try and understand how behaviours can change. Her faith diminished when she prayed repeatedly for her brother but the answer she received wasn’t one she had sought.

My heart hurts for her. My head hurts thinking about the years of suffering she went through. Mothering her mother and mourning her brother.
The writing is phenomenal.
This left me with an existential feeling of science and faith and how they can become entwined.

Profile Image for Nicole.
749 reviews1,935 followers
March 25, 2021
Why did I pick up this book? For one simple reason. I loved Homegoing. Transcendent Kingdom is nothing like it. It deals with science and religion. Gifty, the main character, questions her beliefs among other topics such as addiction origins while making experiments on mice, also race and depression, etc.

While I understand why many readers are going to love or at least like Transcendent Kingdom, these kinds of books never appealed to me. I should’ve researched this book more but I wanted to know if it deserves my vote for the GR choice award. Nowadays, I’m reading many books that I would’ve avoided if I actually knew what they were actually about. One would think knowing this book is about "a black/immigrant/female/scientist" is enough. However, it isn't just about that. I really wanted to know about the challenges she might face in this science field in the USA and her life with an addicted brother and depressed mother. Instead, after finishing this book, I realized I’m simply not the target audience.

Everything aside, my main issue with the book was with the time jumps. I would’ve probably given it 3 stars if it was told in a different way. The present time of the book stretches across only one week or so. Most of the book focused on Gifty’s past. We also don’t have chronological time jumps either. I would’ve liked this book much better if it was told across the years, especially since nothing important happens in the present.

Luckily, the narrator did a good job telling this story (or long self, world and life analysis, depends on how you see it). Although I listened to the audio, the writing style was easy to keep up with and I didn’t have any problems knowing what period of time we’re in. Probably because so little was happening in the present but still, it could’ve been confusing since I don’t recall having “year 2019” or so before each chapter.

The science and religion questions and analysis weren’t anything new also. Gyasi tried to talk about many things but only touched the surface. For example, all the religious questioning didn't lead anywhere. I would've liked to know more about her life as a black med student at Stanford. What challenges did she face? How did she deal with it?

If you’re into those kinds of books that try to find answers to God and find science as a sanctuary trying but knowing that they won’t reach the most definite answer, you might enjoy it. I’m not. I’m not into anything overly spiritual or that handles such subjects. I do believe in God but these books never connected with me on a personal level (regardless of whether the final verdict was that God exists or not), which is the purpose of such books, in my opinion, to create a bond with the reader through similar beliefs and experiences.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,820 reviews1,378 followers
August 23, 2021
I re-read this following its deserved shortlisting for the 2021 Women's Prize. A second read only confirmed my impression that its omission from the 2021 Booker Prize (as well as that of "Assembly") is rather inexplicable and considerably to the detriment of that prize.

Homo sapiens, the most complex animal, the only animal who believed he had transcended his Kingdom, as one of my high school biology teachers used to say. That belief, that transcendence, was held within this organ itself. Infinite, unknowable, soulful, perhaps even magical. I had traded the Pentecostalism of my childhood for this new religion, this new quest, knowing that I would never fully know.

Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel was the ambitious, powerful if somewhat flawed historical epic “Homegoing” which told, in two diverging and the intersecting multi-generational tales, the missing parts of history in Ghana and America.

This her follow-up is in my view an even better book – and made I think even more impressive by the divergence in style and themes explored of its predecessor. For at heart this is an examination of religious and scientific belief – their clashes and similarities – and about how either holds up refracted through a lens of loss, addiction and underlying racism.

There are some strong overlaps between this book and the Booker-shortlisted “Real Life” – although in this novel the scientific research (here into mice rather than nematodes) is central to the book and non-autobiographical in nature (actually deriving from research done by the author’s friend – see link below) rather than serving as a simply a autobiographical vehicle for an exploration of other themes. I have to say also that I think this is a far more mature and coherent novel than the debut “Real Life”.

The author herself was was born in Ghana and raised in Alabama.

Over time the backstory of our first party narrator Gifty emerges.

She was born in the US some time after her driven and very religious Ghanian mother wins the Green Card lottery and moves to Alabama, with her at the time only child – Nana – to stay with a cousin doing a PhD there, before settling and later joined, rather reluctantly, by her older and rather easygoing husband – known as Chin Chin Man. The family struggle in America – Gifty’s mother works as a home help for the elderly (starting with a bigoted older white man), Chin Chin Man gets a job as a janitor but is weighted down by the overt racism he experiences – but Gifty’s mother joins an Assembly of God church where she gains a community (although move covert racial prejudice is never far from the surface no matter how much she chooses to ignore it).

Gifty too develops a childlike faith – which she expresses via a coded diary written to God – extracts of which litter the book – and the same impulses that drive her to faith drive her to an early interest in science

Back then, I approached my piety the same way I approached my studies: fastidiously. I spent the summer after my eighth birthday reading my Bible cover to cover, a feat that even my mother admitted she had never done. I wanted, above all else, to be good. And I wanted the path to that goodness to be clear. I suspect that this is why I excelled at math and science, where the rules are laid out step by step, where if you did something exactly the way it was supposed to be done, the result would be exactly as it was expected to be.

Nana as a young child is a successful soccer player – but quits after a racist incident – only for a growth spurt to help him discover basketball which does far more to cement both his and the family’s popularity and set out a potential future of College scholarships. But when he is injured on court, his family gradually realise that he has become addicted to OxyContin – an addiction which rapidly spins out of control and leads to his death from overdose. In turn this causes Gifty to question her hitherto unshakeable childlike faith, and her mother to sink into depression and Ambien dependency (with the 12 year old Gifty then sent to Ghana for a period while her mother just pulls herself together).

The book is set sixteen years later – Gifty is now a studying for a PhD in Neuroscience in California. Gifty’s PhD is on Neural circuits of reward-seeking behaviour – in simple terms she performs a relatively classical experiment on mice who after working out that a lever causes a reward of food, then find it starts giving them random shocks. Most mice eventually stop pressing the lever but a small cohort carry on pressing the lever no matter how frequent the shocks – effectively completely risk-averse reward seeking behaviour (something like addiction in humans). Her work is looking at whether.

optogenetics [can] be used to identify the neural mechanisms involved in psychiatric illnesses where there are issues with reward seeking, like in depression, where there is too much restraint in seeking pleasure, or drug addiction, where there is not enough?

And of course function as a way for her to work through her confusion and shame about why she was unable to save her brother.

At the book’s start, her mother seems to have relapsed into depression and Anhedonia (an inability to drive pleasure) comes to stay with her and this causes Gifty to look back on her past and try to come to terms once more with everything that happened and to try to come to terms with it and this in turn leads her to reflect on her journey through religious faith and scientific belief – and to realise that they are simultaneously in conflict but also two sides of the same coin, and that ultimately neither has really give her the answers she seek but that between both of them and the fundamental importance of relationships there is an answer to be found.

This was a book where I found myself repeatedly highlighting passages – here are some of my favourites

In the book of Matthew, Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Here is a separation. Your heart, the part of you that feels. Your mind, the part of you that thinks. Your soul, the part of you that is. I almost never hear neuroscientists speak about the soul. Because of our work, we are often given to thinking about the part of humans that is the vital, inexplicable essence of ourselves, as the workings of our brains—mysterious, elegant, essential. Everything we don’t understand about what makes a person a person can be uncovered once we understand this organ. There is no separation. Our brains are our hearts that feel and our minds that think and our souls that are. But when I was a child I called this essence a soul and I believed in its supremacy over the mind and the heart, its immutability and connection to Christ himself.

At times, my life now feels so at odds with the religious teachings of my childhood that I wonder what the little girl I once was would think of the woman I’ve become— a neuroscientist who has at times given herself over to equating the essence that psychologists call the mind, that Christians call the soul, with the workings of the brain. I have indeed given that organ a kind of supremacy, believing and hoping that all of the answers to all of the questions that I have can and must be contained therein. But the truth is I haven’t much changed. I still have so many of the same questions, like “Do we have control over our thoughts?,” but I am looking for a different way to answer them. I am looking for new names for old feelings. My soul is still my soul, even if I rarely call it that.

This is something I would never say in a lecture or a presentation or, God forbid, a paper, but, at a certain point, science fails. Questions become guesses become philosophical ideas about how something should probably, maybe, be. I grew up around people who were distrustful of science, who thought of it as a cunning trick to rob them of their faith, and I have been educated around scientists and laypeople alike who talk about religion as though it were a comfort blanket for the dumb and the weak, a way to extol the virtues of a God more improbable than our own human existence. But this tension, this idea that one must necessarily choose between science and religion, is false. I used to see the world through a God lens, and when that lens clouded, I turned to science. Both became, for me, valuable ways of seeing, but ultimately both have failed to fully satisfy in their aim: to make clear, to make meaning.

I felt this was an excellent book and it also felt an intelligent and convincing one. The book is peppered with religious references and bible verse (ones Gifty learned as a child) and as a Christian I can say that they are all quoted in context and with understanding. And the scientific details, which at times get a little complex, are also never less than convincing and seem to fit my (more limited) understanding of the actual science involved (see paper below).

But if that and my review makes this book feel like some form of heavy philosophical tome – it is much more than that. Because at the heart there is a tale of: fraternal heartbreak; of a mother-daughter relationship which never really functions both as a mother-child and then a daughter-elderly dependent; of insidious racism never really seen as such until much later and absorbed more as unworthiness or shame; and even a very tentative attempt at romance which does provide some form of ultimate redemption.

This is a book which poses lots of questions, and while not giving any easy answers (because ultimately the questions are unanswerable), gives plenty for the reader to reflect on.

I thought it was outstanding.

Two, I hope interesting links referenced in the Acknowledgements.

The first is the doctoral work co-authored by the author’s friend Tina Kim on which Gifty’s work is based.


The second a short story written by the author and published in Guernica magazine – from which the novel (in the author’s words) picks up characters and questions and reshapes and repurposes them to ask new questions.


My thanks to Penguin UK Viking for an ARC via NetGalley.
Profile Image for Elle.
587 reviews1,399 followers
December 13, 2020
A debut like Homegoing, so massive in scope, was always going to a a difficult thing to follow. I can appreciate the pressure Gyasi was under to measure up to that book, and I think the direction she decided to go in with her sophomore novel was a smart one. Like how an actor who comes out of one distinct and identifiable role may want to pursue a next one that is completely different in order to avoid being type-cast in the future. While Homegoing was a novel spaced out over more than a half a dozen generations and two continents, introducing a new character focus and time period with each new chapter, Transcendent Kingdom doesn’t try to expand even further beyond that. Instead, it turns inward.

The story follows Gifty, a woman in her twenties who is, and I’m going to take this directly from the description as the nuances of academia are beyond me, ”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.” Essentially, she is observing and experimenting on mice in order to see if they can learn impulse-control. I’m a vegetarian for ethical reasons, so this wasn’t exactly my favorite portion of the book. But what I was able to glean from the scientific parts seemed interesting enough.

What Gifty grapples with in Transcendent Kingdom, though, isn’t really anything to do with her work. The real focus here is on Gifty and her family: her mother, father and brother, Nana. Since leaving Ghana for the United States when her brother was a baby, Gifty was born several years later after the family had settled in Alabama. They struggled financially, with Gifty’s mother working long hours as a caretaker and her father unable to secure much work at all. It’s an added strain on a family already dealing with the stress of immigrating, the racism of their newly adopted community and the difficulty of raising two children in an unfamiliar place.

A lot of these details are revealed through flashbacks woven into the modern day narrative of Gifty while she’s working at her lab. For Gyasi, the timeline wasn’t as structured as her last book, and I did get thrown off a few times. What’s apparent right away is that both Gifty’s brother and father are out of the picture and her mother is reeling from something yet to be named. Eventually more of these histories are revealed, and there’s a quiet devastation in finding out why Gifty and her mother are the way they are.

Because of the nature of her studies and some of her family turmoil, a lot of the story centers around substance abuse. I’ve read several books this year where addiction, particularly the opioid crisis in America, is at the root of the narrative. It honestly doesn’t get any easier to read about. All the same feelings of hope flattening into despair and directionless frustration come flooding back as if they never left. And I guess they don’t have much of a reason to leave, really. What have we as a society done to help the people struggling? Which of the parties responsible have been held accountable? The answers are next to nothing and none.

Much of the internal conflict within Gifty is that battle between religion and science. I wouldn’t call myself a religious person, and I didn’t have the stringent Christian upbringing that she did. But I can empathize with that struggle between what you’ve been taught and what you end up discovering on your own. It can really unravel some fundamental truths you may have held about who you are and what your place in the world is, so it’s hard to blame those who end up avoiding that personal confrontation all together. It’s difficult and a bit of a leap of faith to unlearn something when you’re not yet sure what’s going to take its place.

By the end, though, I felt like I was still missing something. I’m having a hard time deciphering what Yaa Gyasi’s overall thesis of the book is. I think Transcendent Kingdom is well-written and heartbreaking, but it didn’t make me feel leveled in the way that Homegoing did—the peaks never reach as high and the depths never quite so low. It’s still an accomplishment for Gyasi, and indicative that she still has plenty to offer with her writing. I’m looking forward to any and all future works from her.
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,049 reviews48.7k followers
August 25, 2020
“I would always have something to prove,” the narrator of Yaa Gyasi’s new novel says. “Nothing but blazing brilliance would be enough to prove it.”

In such passages of mingled frustration and determination, one senses an element of autobiography.
When she was just 25, Gyasi reportedly sold her debut novel, “Homegoing,” for $1 million. It was the kind of financial windfall that whips up fawning publicity and — despite the book’s success — skepticism.

If there are any skeptics left, they can stand down now. “Homegoing” wasn’t beginner’s luck. Gyasi’s new novel, “Transcendent Kingdom,” is a book of blazing brilliance. What’s more, it’s entirely unlike “Homegoing.” That debut, as many fans know, is a collection of linked stories that sweeps across four centuries with a vast group of characters in ever changing settings. In a completely different register, “Transcendent Kingdom” is still and ruminative — a novel of profound scientific and spiritual reflection that recalls the works of Richard Powers and Marilynne Robinson. . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,509 reviews29.5k followers
October 12, 2020
4.5 stars, rounded up.

Yaa Gyasi's newest novel, Transcendent Kingdom , is a beautiful, moving look at grief, faith, family, and science.

Gifty is studying for her PhD in neuroscience at Stanford. Her research deals with depression and addiction, two things she knows all too well. Her older brother Nana, a talented basketball player, died of an overdose after getting addicted to OxyContin following an injury, and her mother has been virtually bedridden with grief and depression since his death a number of years ago.

While Gifty hopes to find scientific explanations for the issues that affected her family and so many others, she doesn’t truly understand the toll they’ve taken on her emotionally until her mother comes to stay with her. And as Gifty tries to find ways of reaching her mother, and struggles with completing her own work, she remembers the days of attending her mother’s evangelical church and the comforts and challenges it brought her.

This was such a gorgeously written book, a story of racism and the immigrant experience, the pain of addiction, depression, and loss, and the clarifying power for some of both science and faith. I felt like the emotions of this book almost snuck up on me the way they did Gifty.

I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time.

Check out my list of the best books I read in 2019 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2019.html.

Check out my list of the best books of the decade at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/my-favorite-books-of-decade.html.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com.

Follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/the.bookishworld.of.yrralh/.
Profile Image for Karen.
593 reviews1,198 followers
September 18, 2020
Gifty is the narrator of this story.
She is a young woman/grad student, daughter of Ghanaian immigrants and she is studying neuroscience.. trying to find what lies at the core of human beings.
Gifty, as a young girl, was very involved in her mother’s Christian faith and wrote many letters to God about her family etc..
When she suffers the death of her older brother Nana from opioid overdose and then her mother’s nervous breakdown, her questions regarding God and the “soul” surface.
The science and experiments she is involved with seem to help give her some answers.
This story goes back and forth from her and her brother as children, and after the tragedy.
Quite heartbreaking ...
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,780 reviews14.2k followers
October 17, 2020
3.5 A much slower, understated book than her first. Told in the first person it is also more personal, centering on one family that had come to Alabama from Ghana. Gifty is our narrator and she is now grown, working in Stanford's labs. It goes back and forth from a time when her family was complete, to the present where it is just Fifty and he mother. A mother who suffers from major depression.

The themes are many, touching on subjects both common and relatable. Mental illness, addiction, love, loss, and race. Never feeling as if she fits anywhere, she turns to religion and science. As we see both of these have limitations that Gifty must navigate, find her own answers, her own place.

I had a hard time rating this book, it was told in such an unemotional voice it was difficult for me to connect to Gifty. Her challenges though, did draw me in as a few of the subjects are one that have affected a person close to myself. It also had much more about religion than I am used to reading or even feel comfortable with. Despite those reservations, this is a good book and one that is well worth reading. It does take patience though as the pace is very slow.

Profile Image for Caroline .
429 reviews593 followers
February 8, 2021

The dust jacket copy calls Transcendent Kingdom a "profound story about race in America," "astonishingly intimate," "deeply moving," and "emotionally searing." It's none of these things. Yaa Gyasi's second book is a superficial portrayal of many heavy topics that fails spectacularly on some of the heaviest--systemic and everyday racism, and opioid addiction. Gyasi was very ambitious yet probed the depths of none of her many themes: race, death of a child, depression, drug addiction, and religious questioning. I toss Transcendent Kingdom onto the now towering pile of books that promises a big, gratifying payoff yet barely delivers.

I was really attracted to and intrigued by the premise. The idea of a Ghanaian family living in one of the most racist states in the U.S. could only be powerful and the chronically depressed, bedridden mother very relatable, as my mother also was bedridden for part of my childhood. So I was dumbstruck that Gyasi gave short shrift to what should've been the knock-out parts of her novel. It's almost sinful that the frequent racism the family had to have experienced never played a significant role in their pain. The Southern setting was squandered and waved off the few times it did come up and the tragedy of growing up with a bedridden mother a mere inconvenience.

The protagonist as an adult is insulting. Gyasi ignored every obstacle that, in real life, this main character would face. The infuriating reality is that, as a black woman in a white man's world--and working in science at that--the main character would run up against systemic racism at every turn. She’d very possibly never achieve what she does, no matter how intelligent and determined. And as a woman who grew up in a very broken home, she'd likely be very broken herself. This is a tragedy, another to add to the rest Gyasi didn't explore. Additionally, in her protagonist, Gyasi promoted the fallacy that the U.S. is a meritocracy. Transcendent Kingdom is a fantasy.

Stylistically, the book is basically a meandering diary--a very introspective, well-written diary, but still just a diary. Tediously at times, the main character tells about her life, ruminating on all the heavy topics, doling them out in bits and pieces. She writes of her pain--and of the things that should cause her pain--with an unrealistic emptiness. She may be a scientist, but scientists still are human beings, not unfeeling automatons. Dialogue is sparse, curt, and unmeaningful. If any writing should make a reader feel close to a writer, it should be a diary.

Transcendent Kingdom is told from the main character's perspective, but with so much happening to her mother and brother, they deserved to have their story really told. I wanted to feel the pain of the mother, a Ghananian immigrant working a taxing menial job; abandoned by her husband; living in the South; raising two kids, one of whom dies of a drug overdose after she tries repeatedly to get him sober. She's a mostly mute cardboard cut-out, and when the mother makes her bed her home after her son dies, Gyasi expected me to fill in the blanks of her pain. Opioid addiction is highly relevant at this time, but the issue got lip service. The extent of the brother’s addiction involves sleeping or sitting in a stupor on his couch a few times, living on the street for days at a time off the page, and then dying off the page.

All these topics have been done superbly elsewhere. The Goldfinch depicts grief in remarkable depth; Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction has set the bar sky high in its portrayal of the ruinous effects of drug addiction, on both addict and family; Amy and Isabelle delves deeply into a strained mother-daughter relationship; White Oleander shows what hell follows for a child abandoned by a parent. Transcendent Kingdom could’ve been on the list.

As someone who doesn’t support belief in religion, I hesitated to read Transcendent Kingdom but changed my mind after hearing the book isn’t religious. However, the religion-themed parts won't be bothersome to non-religious readers not because they aren’t preachy (they’re not) but rather because they’re irrelevant. Religion in Transcendent Kingdom consists of unpassionate description of attending church services, hollow musings on God and faith, and insertions of odd little personal prayers. The overall effect is of a heavy topic shoehorned in for depth, same as the main character's (non-graphic) neuro-biology lab work on mice.

I applaud authors who aim to write works that have meaning, and I therefore appreciate Gyasi's intention and effort. However, increasingly, authors favor quantity over quality in stories. Gyasi worked hard to tackle so much, but when newer authors squeeze many themes into one work, it's rarely not problematic. Obstacles. Pain. Transcendent Kingdom is brimming with these and not a one is developed or felt. An author cannot sit down to write about pain but then neglect to make the reader feel it and wonder why the work gets criticized. Despite a few spikes in my interest here and there, Transcendent Kingdom failed to dazzle me. Gyasi writes well, but that’s not enough and I’ll pass up her previous and future work.
April 22, 2021
"I would always have something to prove, Nothing but blazing brilliance would be enough to prove it."

I can't think of better words to describe Transcendent Kingdom, but "blazing brilliance." It is a remarkable story that is dazzling written from the first page to the very last page. It's the kind of story that brings out the thoughts and feelings I love most about reading, and I have a lot of thoughts and feeling about stories.

Transcendent Kingdom is a raw, insightful, intimate look into the thoughts of neuroscientist grad student Gifty while she tries to make sense of addiction and depression that has gutted her family. It is a quiet, eloquent written story that explores a complex web of themes of family, grief, race, belonging, addiction, depression through Gifty's shame, weaving them together to a quiet redemption.

The themes are deeply layered with faith and science as Gifty struggles with faith, no longer giving her comfort and the answers she seeks. She turns to science to understand and make sense of her brother's addiction to opioids. She uses her thesis experiment to study reward-seeking behavior in mice and discover the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all around her.

"I used to see the world through a God lens, and when that lens clouded, I turned to science," she writes. "Both became, for me, valuable ways of seeing, but ultimately, both have failed to fully satisfy in their aim: to make clear, to make meaning."

"Could it get a brother to set down a needle? Could it get a mother out of bed?"

The story's strength is the dynamics between Gifty and her thoughts towards her mother and their dynamics. The tension between their dynamics drives the story forward. Gifty is a challenging character to relate to as she is distant, guarded, and restrained as she observes and makes sense of the world around her. Her structured thoughts and feelings are brilliantly insightful and thought-provoking but can come across as more matter-of-fact rather than emotional. However, under her guarded wall and the quiet layers to the story, she is a character screaming to be heard and one that is rewarding to listen to!!

"The truth is we don't know what we don't know. We don't even know the questions we need to ask in order to find out, but when we learn one tiny little thing, a dim light comes on in a dark hallway, and suddenly a new question appears."

I received a copy through the publisher on NetGalley. I also bought a print copy to love, smell hug and carry around in one beautiful handmade book sleeve. Check out my blog post for details Traveling Sister Book Reviews
Profile Image for Terrie  Robinson.
443 reviews716 followers
June 22, 2021
"Transcendent Kingdom" by Yaa Gyasi is a beautifully written African-American Family story.

Gifty's family is broken. An immigrant family from Ghana who settles in Huntsville, Alabama in hopes of a better life in America. The mother is the main breadwinner, the father is mostly unemployed. Tragically, the family lives in poverty.

Gifty's father decides to return to Ghana for a visit. He never returns. Instead he leaves Gifty's mother to raise their two children. Alone.

Gifty's older brother, Nana is a talented athlete. A star athlete in basketball until he becomes addicted to opioids after a game injury. After rehab and promises of never touching drugs again, Nana dies of a heroin overdose.

Gifty's mother suffers from depression. It grips and debilitates her. She attempts suicide, is hospitalized but chronic depression keeps revealing its ugliness.

Gifty seems to be the only one in her family able to assimilate in America. She's always had to be older than her years. She's joyless and lonely. She functions through muscle memory and is fiercely independent out of necessity.

Gifty's faith has always sustained her. Now she's looking for answers through science. She wants to make sense of Nana's death. Can her studies as a PhD neuroscience student find the answers she is searching for concerning addiction and depression?

The topics in this story are plentiful and handled realistically. The issue I have with this story is it presents only one side - Gifty's side. There are three other members of this family and yet Gifty's perspective is the only one heard. I wanted more from the other characters. As is, it feels like a story that is left unfinished.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Bahni Turpin. Once again, Bahni uses her spectacular voicing skills for all the characters with amazing results.

3.5 stars rounded down.
Profile Image for Brina.
933 reviews4 followers
February 2, 2021
Last year I heard that Yaa Gyasi had finally written a new book. Needless to say I was thrilled because I so enjoyed her debut Homegoing. If it ever comes up, I will support the book over the Pulitzer winner that year Underground Railroad that was written about a similar topic. As with any of my preferred authors and their new books, I am dependent on the library and know going in that I will not be among one of the first to read it. One of my goodreads groups scheduled this book for January to give everyone enough time to obtain the book. I had been admittedly busy and could not start with the group. Most people noted that the topic is heavy and if I am looking for something lighter to not read it at the moment; however, I had been anticipating this book for months and decided to read anyway. Albeit not the subject matter I was looking for at the moment, I am glad that I picked up and devoured Transcendent Kingdom in under a day.

Gifty is in the last year of a PhD program at Stanford. She is studying the neurological pathways in rats in hopes that she can discover a means for humans to fight off addiction. Immediately I took a liking in Gifty just as I had in Hope Jahren’s memoir last year. My dad is an engineer and I have more of an engineering brain even though it was not my chosen career. I find scientific processes to be fascinating, encouraged when it is women making these discoveries in fields that had been closed to us for countless generations. Gifty might be a fictional character, Gyasi developed her through collaboration with a friend who is indeed in a PhD program at Stanford and has had her work published in Cell magazine. Gifty is the resulting composite when Gyasi combines her friend’s scientific mind with her own literary one. Although others noted that it was tricky to read about the countless lab experiments, I found them to be refreshing as they represented Gifty’s respite from the rest of her life, which has been littered with loss. Even though the scientific portions of this book may have been tedious for some, for me they represented hope for Gifty in her life overall after an early lifetime of sadness.

Gifty’s mother immigrated from Ghana to Alabama to give her older brother Nana to the world. She believed that he had infinitely better opportunities in the United States than Ghana and left against the better wishes of her husband. The only jobs that Gifty’s parents could get in Alabama were those of menial labor as they navigated the nexus of both being immigrants and the targets of others’ racist beliefs. Gifty’s mother somehow stuck it out, finding refuge in a fundamentalist church, whereas her father returned to Ghana for good when Nana was ten and impressionable and Gifty was five. It was apparent early on that the father was the happier, more laid back parent, and both children were better cared for in his presence. Once he left, it wrecked their home life, and Nana as an adolescent male was never able to recover. He found somewhat of a comradeship in sports, but as the only African American on the team, he stuck out, irking other parents in the stands. Eventually Nana got sucked into the opioid crisis after being given prescription drugs for a sports related injury. With no male role model to help him, Nana was forced to navigate his recovery on his own; however, it was not meant to be. I do believe that Nana is based on Gyasi’s own brother because in her acknowledgments in Homegoing she notes her one brother and the one no longer with her whose spirit lives on. Writing Gifty’s character is perhaps a way for Gyasi to cope with her own loss, one that will never quite go away.

After a lifetime of growing up in a home mired by a nexus of sadness, the difficulty in being immigrants, and a church where she did not quite fit in, Gifty desired to get as far away from Huntsville as possible. Normally, being accepted into Harvard would be a cause to rejoice in a family, but for Gifty it was relief to get away from her mother not being able to cope with the death of a sibling. Being shielded by the fundamentalists for years, Gifty was unlearned in ways of the world, and it showed during her first year of college. Her lone coping mechanism prior to being immersed in a lab was to keep a journal, addressing it to G-D. Some of the early entries, especially before Nana’s death, were cute, written in the hand of a child under ten. Then, Gifty gradually stopped believing in G-D, the journal entries trickling to a stop as well. Eventually, she would find her niche in the labs of Harvard and Stanford where she would find people who accepted her for being Gifty. This was a long, arduous process full of raw emotions; many of my goodreads friends noted for this reason that I should stay away from Gifty’s story for now. Coping through her work, however, Gifty perseveres, making this book as uplifting at times as it was depressing.

This world needs more people like Christina Kim, whose research Gifty’s is based on. The world also needs Yaa Gyasi to tell more of her stories. Homegoing was a thrilling ride as it told a family history all the way back to Ghana. Transcendent Kingdom was even more emotional, as it took more for Gyasi to tell this story which is based on too many personal experiences. Immigration is not as easy as finding the American dream, as is depicted in many immigrants’ tales. Gyasi tells how her parents, educated people, could do little more than work as home health aides and janitors, pinching pennies for years. Thankfully she made it, her brother not so much, succumbing to a nexus of problems. After producing two winners with her first two books, I wonder what Yaa Gyasi has for an encore. I know whenever she comes out with new material, I will be there to read it; it will be worth the wait.

🇬🇭 4+ stars 🧪
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