This book blew me away. It is stunning, intimate and heartbreaking, with elements of religion and science that forced me to reflect on my own life. Dare I say that I loved Transcendent Kingdom more than Homegoing? (By just a fraction of a hair.) Yaa Gyasi is a literary genius and I truly believe her books are modern day classics.
Gifty is far from precocious girl as she tries to navigate the world within the confines of her religious upbringing and desire to seek answers through science and education. Her mother and older brother immigrated from Ghana to a small southern town in Alabama before she was born and her father has long since left her family. Gifty's brother tragically dies from an overdose as a teenager, which sends her mother into a deep depression and forces Gifty to become her own caretaker. As a young adult, she seeks answers to the trouble her mother and brother faced, through her career in neuroscience and her childhood spent in an evangelical church.
First off, Gyasi is an incredibly gifted writer. I am quite sure she can do no wrong and I will make it a point to read everything she ever publishes. I fell for her writing after reading Homegoing. Even though the characters tore my heart out, I went back for more with Transcendent Kingdom. I just love a book that envelopes me in the character's lives, gets me fully invested, and shatters me. To me, that is the sign of a good book.
What I found so impactful about this book is the parallelism between science and religion in uncovering the answers to life. It is clear that Gifty carries grief from her brothers untimely death and that though her brother was the one addicted to opioids, Gifty and her mother also suffered. Gifty buries herself in her work, trying to find the connection between addiction and relapse and reward seeking behavior and restraint in the mice she observes. She so badly wants to understand why her brother succumbed to his addiction and why her mother suffers such debilitating depression, but both science and her religious upbringing do not give her a clear answer.
I related to Gifty so much as a young girl, as I grew up in a strict, religious household. I thought God and the bible held all the answers to life and, like Gifty, often wrote to God or about God in my childhood journals. Much like Gifty, as I grew into myself, I developed my own opinions and sought answers from places other than church. I loved the symbolism of this and how we are often seeking answers to the "whys" in life and where is the right answer held? Science? Religion? Both? Or no where at all?
Transcendent Kingdom has so many layers that it's complex story will works it's way into your heart and never leave. This is one of those books where I wish I could erase my memory and read it again! I highly recommend this one to fans of literary fiction and recommend you purchase a copy for your home library.
5 stars. ALL THE STARS.
“…the lesson I have never quite been able to shake: that I would always have something to prove and that nothing but blazing brilliance would be enough to prove it.”
“Whenever I listened to his friends speak about issues like prison reform, climate change, the opioid epidemic, in the simultaneously intelligent but utterly vacuous way of people who think it’s important simply to weigh in, to have an opinion, I would bristle. I would think, What is the point of all this talk? What problems do we solve by identifying problems, circling them?”
“The ending, the answer, is never the hard part. The hard part is trying to figure out what the question is, trying to ask something interesting enough, different enough from what has already been asked, trying to make it matter.”
“Though I had never been an addict, addiction, and the avoidance of it, had been running my life.”
“But this tension, this idea that one must necessarily choose between science and religion, is false.”
“But the waste was my own, the waste was what I missed out on whenever I looked at him and saw just his addiction.”
Content warnings: opioid addiction/substance abuse, drug overdose resulting in death of loved one, racism, depression, reverse parenting roles