Transcendent Kingdom – Yaa Gyasi

Trigger Warning for racism.

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.

My Thoughts:
I don’t even know where to begin with reviewing this book. It’s quite short but som much happens.

We follow Gifty as she tries to understand addiction whilst balancing her home life and work life. I found this extremely interesting because she is a neuroscience and she was brought up in a religious household. And in my opinion, Yaa Gyasi describes this really well with some people being openly shocked that she is a scientist and does believe in God while other people genuinely don’t mind either way.

Yaa Gyasi has an incredible way of describing situations that are common for women in science one quote that I highlighted is: ‘I didn’t want to be thought of as a woman in science, a black woman in science. I wanted to be thought of as a scientist, full stop’. I loved this because why is so much of what people are is reflected in how they are described, e.g. ‘female scientist’, ‘woman in technology’. Obviously what Gifty is saying is more than gender it is about race as well, but it was something that I can really relate to. I work in technology and I am the only woman in my team.

What is really upsetting is that she feels she has to either give up her religion or give up being a scientist, and that’s not how it should work, but unfortunately for close-minded people, you can’t have both.

It is clear that Gifty is struggling with a lot, and she doesn’t know how to deal with it. First, her mothers’ mental health decline, is something that, I felt, neither of them understood and so didn’t know how to heal. Then there is as I said above her struggle with science and religion that they aren’t compatible but they are in my opinion closely linked. Growing up as the only black family in a very white and racist area and trying to align knowing her parents are from Ghana but having to acclimate to America. And then using science to understand her brothers’ death, when science won’t truly give her the answers she wants and needs.

I was honestly crying over Nanas’ death because of the way Yaa Gyasi describes it, I was picturing it and it’s like torture for all of them. There were times during the book that I was hoping that his death wouldn’t happen and I was just hoping for a happy ending but I knew it was coming.

I do feel like the ending was a little rushed, I would have liked to see her relationship with Katherine explored a bit more but I am happy that it ended the way it did.

4 thoughts on “Transcendent Kingdom – Yaa Gyasi”

  1. Fantastic review! This sounds like it explores some really deep themes which is impressive given that you say it’s a short book. I’m glad you enjoyed it and that the writing was powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

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