Review: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Wow – what a read! Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi is one of those amazing books that explores so many ideas within a cohesive, engrossing narrative and manages to perfectly balance it all: working as both a heart-wrenching story and thought-provoking, wonderfully written piece that packs an emotional punch.

Opening sentence: Whenever I think of my mother, I picture a queen-sized bed with her lying in it, a practiced stillness filling the room.

So what is it about?

This is story of Gifty. Like author Yaa Gyasi, Gifty is of Ghanaian descent and grows up in Alabama, USA. Gifty lives with her mother and older brother, Nana. Her father has long since gone back to Ghana and is a fleeting part of Gifty’s life.

Gifty is a neuroscientist, she conducts experiments to see if she can isolate the causes of addiction. Her chosen career has personal roots, through flashback stories we discover why and find out more about what has made gifty the woman she is. She feels like she has to be perfect, always the ‘good girl’ and has set herself very high standards.

When science meets religion

I adored the ideas explored in Transcendent Kingdom – correlating science and religion and ruminating on how the two co-exist and how (if) they can answer questions for each other. Gifty’s mother is very religious, so she was brought up with God and the Bible in her life. She is also very logical and practical, so we are there with her as she balances these two aspects of her mind.

I am looking for new names for old feelings. My soul is still my soul, even if I rarely call it that.

Gifty’s personal journey

Gifty is one of my favourite characters of recent times. Transcendent Kingdom is her coming-of-age story, albeit in her late 20s. Her awkwardness, pain and conflict is captured so well; her complex relationships with her mother, with being a black woman in such a white, male industry and with religion were just brilliantly explored.

Gifty’s mother also broke my heart. As an immigrant, she went to America in an attempt to make a better life, but things are not like that. She faces racism, low paid jobs and having to come to terms with the fact that her bid for a better life may not be what she dreamed of.

The two of us back then, mother and daughter, we were ourselves an experiment.

I know Transcendent Kingdom will definitely be a book I read again. Totally engrossing, sometimes funny, continually making me think. I also really enjoyed reading about the scientific research and loved Gifty – felt all the emotion she was going through.

I don’t even think I can do this book justice here – just read it! I haven’t yet read Yaa’s first novel Homegoing yet, but am literally on my way to get it now.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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