Yaa Gyasi: Transcendent Kingdom

Gifty (and what an appropriate name for this gentle soul) appears in different stages of her life: as a young child with memories of her wonderful Ghanaian family living in Alabama; as an eleven-year-old living with her depressed and anhedonia mother and her older brother whom she adores. Then, if having her father return to Ghana wasn’t enough another type of tragedy strikes and we see Gifty doing research in a university lab in Southern California on the addictive behavior of rats while she is confronted with her brother fighting his own addiction as she documents what it is like to live with an addict and a depressed mother.

There is no mystery regarding the plot. One has simply to read the jacket cover to know the entire plot. Rather, this is a character driven novel and a mixture of fiction versus non-fiction – a cross between storytelling and neurological research on addiction. 

Gifty offers the readers the rawness of her truth that we find sometimes difficult to accept about ourselves.

For example, her thoughts about her brother’s addiction to heroin:


“Forget for a moment what he looked like on paper, and instead see him as he was in all of his glory, in all of his beauty. It’s true that for years before he died, I would look at his face and think, What a pity, what a waste. But the waste was my own, the waste was what I missed out on whenever I looked at him and saw just his addiction.”

The book is full of such insights be they about race, immigration, mother/daughter relationship, religion versus science, and grief.

It also contains some beautifully written sentences:

I, too, have spent years creating my little moat of good deeds in an attempt to protect the castle of myself.

A beautifully literary novel that made me understand a bit more what it is like to be Black in America and a sneak look into Ghanaian culture. A book that, I think, is bound to transcend you.

22 thoughts on “Yaa Gyasi: Transcendent Kingdom

  1. I was thinking as I was reading your post that this seems like a really interesting look at Ghana and at the immigrant experience, Carol. And it sounds as though it explores the human experience, especially the way we cope (or don’t) with life’s blows. I’m glad you thought was a strong read.

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    • Margot, you have a good perception of this book. This is not a crime novel but a literary one and it is no surprise that it was shortlisted for The Women’s Prize for literature – the UK’s most prestigious annual book award celebrating & honoring fiction written by women.

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  2. Wow! Carol, this is a stunning review of what seems a remarkable book. I’ve never heard of the author but her writing sounds compelling, lyrical and brilliantly character-driven. Although I’m trying to limit myself to new books this year ‘Transcendent Kingdom’ is one I must read. I am sure I will feel equally transcended as yourself! Thank you for sharing here – I love sharing, learning and chatting about books! xx

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    • Annika, I think that you will like this book. I had never heard of this author before. I listen to a few podcasts on books and found out about her on one of them. Could have been the podcast What Should I Read Next or perhaps BBC Radio 4 Books and Authors. There’s so much interestings that it’s hard to keep track. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree, it is wonderful the arts are so popular but never enough time to listen/read/see everything! I will try and find these podcasts as I enjoy listening to some whilst driving.

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