Book Review: Transcendent Kingdom

I read Homegoing in February 2018 and was smacked in the face by its style AND substance. Yaa Gyasi is solid, grounded literary writer. There is something incredibly satisfying about that discovering an author who can write about difficult topics and make each sentence independently beautiful. (I’m a little jealous about it, honestly.)

Homegoing was outstanding. You should read it.

Writing a second novel after a stand-out hit is a risk. In fact, I went into Transcendent Kingdom with high expectations. I’m sure everyone did. The sophomore attempt doesn’t always pay off. In this case, it does.

Gifty is a PhD candidate in neuroscience at Stanford University, where she studies reward-seeking behavior in mice as a way to connect ideas between depression and addiction. (I know, I know… it’s not the most uplifting topic.) To discover her motivation behind this body of work, all one has to do is look at her brother, Nana, who died from a drug overdose after getting hooked on painkillers in high school after a basketball injury. Gifty and Nana’s parents, Ghanian immigrants who moved to America for a promising new life, struggled for work and stability.

We see everything through Gifty’s eyes from various stages – as a little girl who looked up to her big brother, as a young woman who didn’t know how to help her mother through depression, as a woman in science, as a scientist in an evangelical church, as an African American person in the deep south, as a loner who struggles to want to be in a relationship… This book is LAYERED, y’all, which only begs the question – why do we expect any one problem to have only one solution?

Despite Transcendent Kingdom being nothing like Homegoing plot-wise, Gyasi AGAIN shows how layered and complicated a life can be. As a culture, we’re in the habit of grouping folks together by gender, race, religion, talents, interests, experiences, as if people can be so easily streamlined and simplified.

But we aren’t simple. We are a complex mix of many things. Dang, what a good book. What a good writer. Highly recommend.

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