As a child Gifty would ask her parents to tell the story of their journey from Ghana to Alabama, seeking escape in myths of heroism and romance. When her father and brother succumb to the hard reality of immigrant life in the American South, their family of four becomes two – and the life Gifty dreamed of slips away.
Years later, desperate to understand the opioid addiction that destroyed her brother’s life, she turns to science for answers. But when her mother comes to stay, Gifty soon learns that the roots of their tangled traumas reach farther than she ever thought. Tracing her family’s story through continents and generations will take her deep into the dark heart of modern America.
Transcendent Kingdom is a searing story of love, loss and redemption, and the myriad ways we try to rebuild our lives from the rubble of our collective pasts.
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With the announcement of the Women’s Prize Longlist 2021, it’s only right that I share my thoughts on this novel. That absolutely deserved to make this list!
This is a beautifully written novel about the meaning of life, addiction, mental health, immigration, racism and grief. Through Gifty, Yaa Gyasi voices the debate of religion vs science and whether the two can co-exist? Can you have faith in both or must you choose?
“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…”
Yaa Gyasi really showed off her range with Transcendent Kingdom and I am so here for it. It is completely different to Homegoing and shouldn’t be compared to her debut novel at all. There’s raw unfiltered emotion poured into the pages of this novel. It truly felt like I was in someone’s head listening to their thoughts as they went through life. As per usual with Gyasi, every flashback, every memory, every scientific term and experiment had a purpose. It all tied together to create this beautiful story.
She truly explored a transcendent level of knowledge with this book.
I loved how Gifty’s journals were written letters to God. As someone who journals and writes letters to God, this was truly heart-warming to me. It reminded me about the power of journaling and how it can soothe your mind. It’s a place for you to express yourself unfiltered and apologetically. I dedicate mine to God because I wanted to feel like I was writing to someone. It really makes me feel like I’m less alone.
The exploration of addiction was the driving force of this novel. It led to Gifty’s questioning of life, of religion and then the natural debating of science. Her determination to seek some sort of answer for her brother’s death consumed her. Hearing Nana’s (Gifty’s older brothers) backstory was truly heartbreaking. In the blink of an eye, he went from a talented athlete with a promising future to a drug addict. I felt Gifty’s pain. I understood why learning about addiction was so important to her. Finding reasons as to why Nana couldn’t stay sober kept her moving forward but also held her back in the past. A truly beautiful metaphor of life.
“But the waste was my own. The waste was what I missed out on whenever I looked at him and just saw his addiction.”
Through Gifty’s mother, we saw many different narratives. We saw the story of a young woman desperate to escape her home country with the belief that they will have a better life in the West. We saw the challenges she faced once she got to America, her determination to make a home for her family and find a community that could resemble the one she had in her home country. We saw the story of a mother who worked tirelessly for other families meaning that she barely spent time with her own. She became a mother figure ‘the mammy’ to the other white families. But most importantly, we saw the story of a Black woman who suffered from depression and struggled to seek the help she needed. We saw the devastating effects it had on her Gifty as the only living family member in the US.
“When she spoke Fante on the phone with her friends, she became like a girl again…when she spoke Twi to me, she was her mother-self…In English, she was meek. She stumbled and was embarrassed…I don’t think she did this because she wanted to…I think, rather, that she just never figured out how to translate who she really was into this new language.”
Reading about Gifty’s mother depression was hard. Every time Gifty spoke about her mother, whether she was angry or sad, it was layered. There was an underlying tone of a little girl who simply wanted a mother to love her enough to get out of bed each day. Gifty never gave up on her mother. She loved her.
Yaa Gyasi dips in and out of racism. It’s an integral theme to the novel as the characters grew up in the deep south of America. But, I loved how it wasn’t the main focus. Addiction, religion, and science were the foundations of this novel. It’s very reminiscent of how Black people often struggle with mental health, existential crisis, and much more. But, racism is always lingering in the background because of the way society works.
The ending was truly beautiful as we watch Gifty seek the answers she needs. Yaa Gyasi has officially made my auto-buy list of authors with this novel. I can’t wait to see what she writes about next.
Also by Yaa Gyasi:
Please read our review of her debut novel – HERE
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