Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Transcendent Kingdom
by Yaa Gyasi
Read by Bahni Turpin
Published September 2020 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group 
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary: 
Gifty is a sixth-year PhD candidate in neuroscience at the Stanford University 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 an ankle 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.

My Thoughts:
Transcendent: adjective
  • beyond or above the range of normal or merely physical human experience
  • (of God) existing apart from and not subject to the limitations of the material universe
  • surpassing the ordinary; exceptional
Two years ago I read Gyasi's debut, Homegoing, and was so impressed with her writing and the story she told. I knew that I would read her next book and requested it from my library before it was even available. I was not alone - it took until November for me to get the book. It might have been because other people had also been impressed with her first book or because this one is gaining high praise from all quarters. For good reason. This book lives up to its title in every way. 

It's a complex novel that handles a lot of themes beautifully, never becoming overwhelmed by them. Gyasi's characters are complicated and wholly developed and I felt so deeply for them. Gyasi looks at the immigrant experience from the point of view of those who choose to stay and those who choose to return home. But this is not just an immigrant story. It's the story of parenting, the relationship between parents and children, the pressure we put on our children, marriage, addiction, mental health, faith, and science. 

Certainly these are not, on their surface, characters to whom I shouldn't necessarily be able to relate. But I can relate to the experience of being the mother of an addict and the constant fear that you are going to lose your child. Mercifully, I did not lose my child to a drug overdose as Gifty's mother did; but I can absolutely imagine finding myself reacting in the same way, being crippled with grief and depression. I also related to Gifty's struggle to reconcile her religious upbringing and faith with science. Even as Gifty is studying science and running an experiment she hopes will help people like Nana, she longs for the days when she could put herself in a higher beings hands. This conflict is one of the strengths of this book, of which there are many. 

If you've listened to any other books read by Bahni Turpin, you'll understand why she was the perfect choice to read this book. I'm always impressed with her work; you absolutely find yourself believing you are listening to the characters tell their stories. If you choose to read this book, I highly recommend the audiobook. I was about a third of the way through this book when I knew it would make a great choice for my book club and put it on our calendar. I recommend it for your book club as well. 


  1. Great review, thanks for sharing your thoughts

  2. I also loved her Homegoing book. I'm planning on reading this one in the spring. Glad it gets high marks from you! I bet it is a great book club book.

  3. We read Homegoing for book club. Was a good discussion but I cannot for the life of me remember anything about the story. I do plan to read this new one at some point.

    How are you doing? How is mini me with all his exposures? Everyone in LA County seems to have it right now. Our numbers are like horror story high. I keep trying to explain that to my husband who still tries to gather and go to the gym, which is against the mandate.