As a child Gifty would ask her parents to tell the story of their journey from Ghana to Alabama, seeking escape in myths of heroism and romance. When her father and brother succumb to the hard reality of immigrant life in the American South, their family of four becomes two – and the life Gifty dreamed of slips away.
Years later, desperate to understand the opioid addiction that destroyed her brother’s life, she turns to science for answers. But when her mother comes to stay, Gifty soon learns that the roots of their tangled traumas reach further than she ever thought. Tracing her family’s story through continents and generations will take her deep into the dark heart of modern America.
Transcendent Kingdom is a searing novel about a family ravaged by forces both within and beyond their control. It is a story of love, loss and inheritance, and the myriad ways we try to rebuild our lives from the rubble of our collective pasts.
A thought provoking novel published earlier this year about immigration and race, family and relationships and addiction. Told from the perspective of Gifty in a fluid, ‘then and now’ format. In the present day Gifty is a promising Phd student at Stamford University, running experiments on mice related to inhibition of reward seeking behaviour. As the story progresses we see how her current role related to her need to understand why her brother was unable to resist the drugs that killed him.
Impacted by immigration and race, Gifty aptly notes, ‘now we are two’, her father having returned to Ghana and made a new family. The impact of racism is stark, the loss of identity and status for the family when they move to USA, the split that drove the family apart – for Gifty’s mother a determination to make the American dream work, for her father, a return to Ghana the only option. The loss of Nana – Gifty’s brother is central to the story, a gifted athlete who spiralled into addiction in tragic circumstances detonated the family, with Gifty and her mother struggling to overcome this loss.
Religion is a thread that runs through the story with Gifty and her mum having to navigate their different views on this and similarly Gifty going through a process of evaluating her religion as she grows older. Themes of mental illness and race are also central in this thought provoking read.
At around 260 pages this book packs a lot into relatively few pages and the writing is strong in weaving the multiple themes into this insightful story. I particularly liked the dialogue about the addiction and thinking around choice and illness in relation to this. Casually tossed racist comments were highlighted as harmful in a skilled way as was the shift from hero to villain as Nana struggled to perform in the sporting arena and the swift reduction to racism that sadly remains very prevalent in sport.
A recommended read, but I think I need to go back and read this author’s debut.
About the Author
Yaa Gyasi was born in Mampong, Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. Her first novel, Homegoing, was a Sunday Times bestseller, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best First Novel and was shortlisted for the PEN / Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction.
In 2017 Yaa Gyasi was selected as one of Grant’s Best of Young American Novelists and in 2019 the BBC selected her debut as one of the 100 Novels That Shaped Our World.