Yaa Gyasi’s first novel, Homegoing, was a sprawling family saga about a family whose point of origin was Ghana. Though the family in Transcendent Kingdom also hails from there, this book is nothing like its predecessor. Rather than than span though generations, this book’s main focus is on one person as she deals with the pain and loss her family deals with after coming to America in search of a better life.
Gifty is a neuroscience candidate at Stanford studying reward seeking behavior in mice. Potentially the research could isolate the neurochemical cause of addiction and depression. As we move back and forth from the present day to Gifty’s childhood in Alabama we see how she came to her research. Her father was dissatisfied with life in the US and went on a visit to Ghana never to return. Her brother became addicted to opioids after a sports injury and eventually died of an overdose and her mother struggled with depression afterwards. As the book opens, her mother’s depressive behaviors seem to be returning and she comes to live in California with Gifty. She tries to make since of what happened to her once happy family via her research but also struggles with the question of faith. Her mother’s mostly white Evangalical church in Alabama never gave her the answers she needed, especially in the wake of her brother’s death and she has since wrestled with the question of belief and whether or not it’s a good thing.
Like Homegoing, Transcendent Kingdom is beautifully written. I listened to the audiobook version and the narrator is excellent. Gifty’s past and present merge as she struggles with her own issues, not just of faith but with her inability to open herself up with other people and ask for help when she is struggling. This book is getting lots of buzz recently and it’s well deserved.