A Transcendent Read for Yaa Gyasi’s Second Novel

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Yaa Gyasi is a talented writer. Her second novel, “Transcendent Kingdom,” is a story about a neuroscience student who balances her studies and caring for her bed-ridden mother suffering from depression. The story jumps back and forth in time between Gifty’s–our heroine–family living in Huntsville, Alabama as a quartet, then a trio; finally, a duo, made up of the main character and her unnamed mother, living near Stanford.

I found this book more personal than I wanted it, more personal than I expected it. The novel scurries between faith and science in an attempt to answer questions about meaning and “Why are we here?” Gyasi writes about Gifty’s “faith” as a child and her fallout with the church and beliefs in adulthood. The book became personal when the author wrote about praying to (a) G-d and not hearing anything back. How some believers know without a doubt G-d heard them is something I admire and envy.

I felt like I couldn’t love this book because there isn’t much-redeeming positivity to balance the negatives. The first was the abandonment of the family by the patriarch, who Gifty refers to a The Chin Chin Man. After some time in Alabama, he tells the family he will visit Ghana and return soon. His absence after a few weeks turns into months, then years, and finally, everyone comes to understand his decision. The second and central event was the addiction and eventual overdose of Nana, Gifty’s older brother. Once the beloved basketball star of his Huntsville corner, Nana’s decline into addiction was challenging and emotional to read.

After losing her son, Gifty’s mother suffers an emotional breakdown, and Gifty is sent to Ghana for a summer while her mother recovers at an institute. She meets relatives for the first time and, disappointingly, is reunited with The Chin Chin Man, who has remarried and doesn’t make the initial effort to visit his daughter, who is staying a few minutes away.

This book is brilliant, and it’s sad and seemingly introspective. There was something amiss about the racism this Black immigrant family experienced in one of the most racist American states. Gyasi only reaches the surface there, but I know there’s so much more.

The writing is fantastic, the story was intriguing, but I wanted some of the characters to be fleshed out more, specifically Gifty’s mother.

Four stars.

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