• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Main protagonist Gifty's journey was full of challenges and not too easy or complete, and her voice had me hooked throughout Yaa Gyasi's Transcendent Kingdom.

I listened to Transcendent Kingdom, Yaa Gyasi's novel about a Ghanaian family living in Alabama.

Gifty is working toward her PhD in neuroscience and is focused on studying addiction--an interest and passion inspired by haunting events in her family's past.

During the course of the book, Gifty examines the shape of her childhood and young adulthood, including the evangelical church she grew up in and the inspiration and judgment she experienced there; her yearning for her estranged father in Ghana, whom they all call the Chin Chin Man; her brother Nana's athletic obsession, his injury, and his subsequent drug addiction; and her mother's tough love, how she shut down after Nana fell apart, and her current emotional paralysis.

Gyasi had me immediately hooked by Gifty. She's had to stifle many of her emotions since she was a young girl--there wasn't space in her family for messy reactions from Gifty or for Gifty to have needs of her own. As an adult, Gifty sinks every waking hour into her pragmatic search for scientific answers that might be illuminating regarding Nana and the breakdown of Gifty's family.

The author explores an interesting tension between science and the religion Gifty feels is a part of her. Her childhood preacher and the church community are faulted, yet her experiences within that community are an indelible part of her. Her various traumas have caused her to lock herself off from most other people, and she has long used work as a refuge and an excuse to be almost completely alone.

When Gifty's mother comes to visit and falls into a depression, unable to get out of bed or even eat, we see echoes of her past patterns--patterns that panicked Gifty and led to her current, emotionally safer, self-reliant, closed-off lifestyle. It's gratifying to see Gifty shift her thinking and her approach slightly in order to open up just a little bit--and to see how powerful the promise of these small changes can be in various aspects of her life.

Gifty is an appealing main protagonist, and Gyasi's journey was fascinating. I couldn't wait to get back to listening to this.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Yaa Gyasi is also the author of Homegoing, which I haven't yet read.

If you're interested in immigrant stories, you might want to check out the books on the Greedy Reading List Six Great Stories about the Immigrant Experience.