Summary and book reviews of Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Transcendent Kingdom

by Yaa Gyasi

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi X
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
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  • Published:
    Sep 2020, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

Yaa Gyasi's stunning follow-up to her acclaimed national bestseller Homegoing is a powerful, raw, intimate, deeply layered novel about a Ghanaian family in Alabama.

Gifty is a sixth-year PhD candidate in neuroscience at the Stanford University School of Medicine studying reward-seeking behavior in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction. Her brother, Nana, was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose after an ankle injury left him hooked on OxyContin. Her suicidal mother is living in her bed. Gifty is determined to discover the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all around her. But even as she turns to the hard sciences to unlock the mystery of her family's loss, she finds herself hungering for her childhood faith and grappling with the evangelical church in which she was raised, whose promise of salvation remains as tantalizing as it is elusive.

Transcendent Kingdom is a deeply moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants ravaged by depression and addiction and grief--a novel about faith, science, religion, love. Exquisitely written, emotionally searing, this is an exceptionally powerful follow-up to Gyasi's phenomenal debut.

Excerpt
Transcendent Kingdom

When I was a child I thought I would be a dancer or a worship leader at a Pentecostal church, a preacher's wife or a glamorous actress. In high school my grades were so good that the world seemed to whittle this decision down for me: doctor. An immigrant cliché, except I lacked the overbearing parents. My mother didn't care what I did and wouldn't have forced me into anything. I suspect she would be prouder today if I'd ended up behind the pulpit of the First Assemblies of God, meekly singing number 162 out of the hymnal while the congregation stuttered along. Everyone at that church had a horrible voice. When I was old enough to go to "big church," as the kids in the children's service called it, I dreaded hearing the worship leader's warbling soprano every Sunday morning. It scared me in a familiar way. Like when I was five and Nana was eleven, and we found a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest. Nana scooped it into his big palms, and the two ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How do Gifty and her mother use prayer differently throughout their lives, and especially after Nana's death? What variations of prayer do the two women discover in the novel?
  2. How does Gifty approach the moral predicament of running her science experiments on mice? What elements of her faith and sense of connection to God's creations are evident in how she treats the mice?
  3. Consider the stigmas surrounding addiction, especially opioid addiction, the rates of which are exploding in today's society. What other stigmas and expectations was Nana responding to by not asking for help to deal with his addiction, and others not doing more to help?
  4. In what ways does Gifty take on the role of caretaker for those in her life? Who, if anyone, takes ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The expected route for the novel to take would be to reveal Gifty's work as a futile attempt to "fix" her world. But Gyasi lets her protagonist's science remain as multitudinous as her self, lets the reader experience the same quiet struggles and occasional sense of wonder that Gifty does. Similarly, her childhood belief in God does not exist for the sake of mere character definition; religion acts with agency upon her life, an entity in itself. This generous approach to concepts that are often reduced to stereotypes or mere facets of identity is striking, and it forms the core of a novel that is humbling in its uncompromising wholeness...continued

Full Review (766 words).

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(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

The Wall Street Journal
[Transcendent Kingdom] is burningly dedicated to the question of meaning… The pressure created gives her novel a hard, beautiful, diamantine luster.”

The New York Times Book Review
Transcendent Kingdom trades the blazing brilliance of Homegoing for another type of glory, more granular and difficult to name.

The Washington Post
A book of blazing brilliance… of profound scientific and spiritual reflection that recalls the works of Richard Powers and Marilynne Robinson… A double helix of wisdom and rage twists through the quiet lines.

Booklist
With deft agility and undeniable artistry, Gyasi's latest is an eloquent examination of resilient survival.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[M]eticulous, psychologically complex...Gyasi's constraint renders the emotional impact of the novel all the more powerful...At once a vivid evocation of the immigrant experience and a sharp delineation of an individual's inner struggle, the novel brilliantly succeeds on both counts.

Library Journal (starred review)
Though it's a departure from her gorgeous historical debut, Homegoing, winner of the NBCC's John Leonard Prize, Gyasi's contemporary novel of a woman's struggle for connection in a place where science and faith are at odds is a piercingly beautiful tale of love and forgiveness.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
The author is astute about childhood grandiosity and a pious girl’s deep desire to be good; she conveys in brief strokes the notched, nodding hook of heroin’s oblivion…final chapter that gives readers a taste of hard-won deliverance.

Author Blurb Ann Patchett
"I would say that Transcendent Kingdom is a novel for our time (and it is) but it is so much more than that. It is a novel for all times. The splendor and heart and insight and brilliance contained in the pages holds up a light the rest of us can follow.

Author Blurb Roxane Gay
Absolutely transcendent. A gorgeously woven narrative about a woman trying to survive the grief of a brother lost to addiction and a mother trapped in depression while pursuing her ambitions. Not a word or idea out of place. Completely different from Homegoing. THE RANGE. I am quite angry this is so good.

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Beyond the Book

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Black and white photograph of Gerard Manley HopkinsIn Yaa Gyasi's Transcendent Kingdom, Gifty, a PhD student of neuroscience, recalls a college course she took to fulfill a humanities requirement that focused on the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. While Gifty didn't care for Hopkins' poetry, she felt a "strange sense of kinship" with the man himself when she reflected on the struggles he had in squaring his religious devotion with his sexual desires. Hopkins, a now-famous Victorian-era poet who converted to Roman Catholicism and became a priest, failed to achieve recognition during his lifetime, partly due to his unusual poetic style. Today, some writers and scholars consider his poetry to be informed by a repressed homosexuality that was at odds with his religious life.

Hopkins was ...

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