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  • Writer's pictureEricka Marie

Book Review: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

In all honesty, after reading this book, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around it all for weeks now. I have so many thoughts and I probably won’t put them together eloquently but here is my attempt:

Book Synopsis: Gifty is a sixth-year candidate in neuroscience at Stanford 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 a knee 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.

First impressions: I went into this book blind. I have a Book of the Month subscription and it was my September 2020 pick because Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel Homegoing was fantastic. One thing her debut taught me is that her creativity and originality for producing book/plot content is beyond comprehensible. When I skimmed the synopsis, I read the word neuroscientist and mentally checked out. For months, this book has been sitting on my shelf and I decided to finally pick it up. I checked out the audiobook from my library and saw Bahni Turpin was the narrator (and this blog stans Bahni) and I knew I had all that I needed to dive into this book.

What I liked: I don’t know how to articulate what I loved about this book without being transparent about all that is my life. Let’s just say I am Gifty and Gifty is me. I have never related to a character so much. Gifty and I are both 28 year old children of immigrants, we are the youngest of two children, we both deal with absent fathers, we both wrote letters to God, we both try to wrap our minds around the complexities of religion, we both seek out explanations for things that don’t have a concrete answer and most importantly, we both have complex relationships with our mothers.

The most beautiful aspects of this book is what was hardest for me to read: the relationship between Gifty and her mother. Gyasi delivers such a raw depiction of a strained mother-daughter relationship. It is evident that Gifty so desperately wants to love her mother beyond her mother’s illness and with the responsibility being hers alone makes things even more arduous. What brought me the most pain was Gifty’s impending fear at the possibility of becoming her mother one day and my gosh that hit me right in my core. “Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.” There were so many pages and quotes that I tabbed that brought the most emotions out of me. I hope to one day revisit this blog post and share everything I’m scared to share now. But if you need clues, again, Gifty is me. I will share this other quote that Gifty’s mother said. She said, “There is no living thing on God’s Earth that doesn’t come to know pain sometime”. It is a human experience and reading how Gifty navigates her pain brought me hope. Hope that even though circumstances may not get better, we have the ability to take it one moment, not day, moment at a time.

Whether you grew up in a religious household or not, I am certain there were moments in your life when you began to question things. There were times when you were desperately seeking concrete answers to questions with fluid answers. You struggled with what’s right and what’s wrong. And on the worst days, you wondered if your time would be better spent believing is something else or in nothing at all. Despite Gifty’s doubts and moments when she pleaded to God to confirm his existence, she never ridiculed her mother’s belief system and her attempt to hold on to a religion when everything around her was falling away, and could we blame her? As Gifty said: “We have to get through this life somehow”.

What I disliked: Nothing. Nothing at all except that it made me cry and real G’s don’t cry.

This book is proof that the season of life you’re in determines how a book makes you feel. I don’t think it would’ve resonated with me as much if I read it any sooner than I did. This book was written for me. I know people have read it and I hope people continue to read it but it’s for ME. It’s take on the challenging ideas regarding religion and mental health afforded me the opportunity to look at my own life and see how I could convince my mind to begin to accept the circumstances I couldn’t change. Yaa Gyasi is unmatched and unparalleled. I don’t think I could recommend this book to everyone. Like all books, you take what you need from it and leave the rest. As always, please look up trigger warnings and don’t be swayed by the book description. At first, you may think the synopsis gives away the whole plot but this book is so much more and nothing like I expected. If you want to read about a young protagonist who is on a journey to understand grief, is learning to let love overpower trauma, and is desperately seeking a scientific answer for things we can only feel in our souls, then read this book.

Is this book my favorite book of all time? For now, yes.

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