I discovered Yaa Gyasi in March 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic, when I ordered books for the lockdown period … and Homegoing (my review) was one of them. Little did I know that Homegoing was going to become an all-time favourite 🙂
Almost a year later I read the second book of Yaa Gyasi – Transcendent Kingdom, one of my most anticipated books for 2021.
Transcendent Kingdom in a nutshell
Transcendent Kingdom tells the story of Gifty, a 28-year-old neuroscientist who spends most of her time studying reward-seeking behaviour at Stanford University. Gifty has Ghanian heritage, but she was born after her family relocated from Ghana to the USA.
It is a touching story that covers difficult topics such as addiction, mental health, and immigration. The story of Gifty and her family is heartbreaking, and illustrates not only the hardships of Black immigrants in the USA, but also how mental health issues take a toll on the whole family.
I enjoyed so much reading Transcendent Kingdom! The story captivated me immediately with the perspectives of Gifty – the child and Gifty – the woman, the narrative structure that goes back and forth from the present to the past, the references to real scientific papers on neuroscience.
Transcendent Kingdom is very different compared to Homegoing – there’s only one storyline instead of a multi-generational structure, and the action takes place mostly in the USA instead of Ghana. However, Ghanaian culture is very much present in the home of Gifty.
Torn between science and religion
Gifty is a scientist, but also a person who grew “in the church” during childhood. She is constantly torn between rational arguments and the religious beliefs deeply rooted in her soul. Also, Gifty’s internal turmoil is fueled by the struggles to accept the past of her family, a past that brings her shame, despite the fact that she did not do anything wrong.
At times, the story reminded me of the memoir Educated by Tara Westover (my review). I see the resemblance from the perspective of family tangles and complex relation of the main character with religious beliefs.
Gifty inspired by a real-life neuroscientist
Yaa Gyasi modeled the neuroscience side of the story after her bestfriend Tina, who studied the neural pathways of reward-seeking behaviour, just like Gifty. Visits to the lab, shadowing Tina while she performed surgery on mice, and discussions about scientific papers were part of the research Yaa Gyasi did for this book … and the result is brilliant!
Reading Transcendent Kingdom was such a rich and moving experience. Yaa Gyasi brought together two opposing topics, science and faith, and interwove them in a beautifully written novel. Definitely one of those books that I’ll recommend to all my friends!
‘Till next time … happy reading!
PS: On 4th of March there will be an online event with Yaa Gyasi centered around Transcendent Kingdom. The event is organized by Penguin Live – you can still register here.
PPS: I received a digital copy of this book in February 2021 at my request, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. My review expresses my own thoughts about the story and it is not influenced in any way by the publisher or the author. The book is published in the UK on 4th of March 2021.