When looking for answers to life and its problems, do you turn to #God or #Science? Jee reviews ‘Transcendent Kingdom’ by #YaaGyasi #bookreview #TranscendentKingdom #literaryfiction @AAKnopf #science #religion #faith #booksbypoc #booksbyblackauthors

Title/Author: Transcendent Kingdom

Publisher: Knopf 

Pages: 266

In a nutshell (Publisher): 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.

My verdict: A profound, thought-provoking and an honest novel about addiction, depression, science, religion, love, family and immigrants.

My thoughts:

“I think we’re made out of stardust, and God made the stars.”

Transcendent Kingdom, Yaa Gyasi

A profound, thought-provoking and an honest novel about addiction, depression, science, religion, love, family and immigrants. I had many sentences and passages highlighted for further reflection. Yes, this book, hurt my head, but in a good way!

The narrator is Gifty, a Ghanaian-American sixth-year PhD candidate in neuroscience at the Stanford University of Medicine who was studying reward-seeking behavior in mice. Her story went back and forth from her childhood days to the present.

Being raised a pious Evangelical Christian by her mother, an immigrant from Ghana, Gifty thought she’d be a dancer or a worship leader, a preacher’s wife or an actress, even though her good grades could pave her way to becoming a doctor, an immigrant cliché. But all that changed when she lost Nana, her brother. She turned to science hoping to find a solution to drug addiction and depression, hoping it could save lives.

In their home in Alabama, Nana was a celebrated basketball player, so much so that he gotten the attention from universities who asked him to play for them. He was also struggling with the absence of his father who had moved back to Ghana, never to return. Nana’s life went on a downward spiral when he injured his leg and was prescribed OxyContin. Before long, he got addicted to it, and later died of an overdose.

After losing Nana, Gifty lost her mother to depression. Gifty was only 11 then. For her mother to heal, she asked Gifty to go to Ghana to stay with her aunt whom she didn’t know existed until she was there. In Ghana, she saw what life could’ve been for her mother and wondered if it would’ve been better for her mother had she stayed.

What stood out most to me in this book was the the insightful, constant questioning on religion and science. One conversation that made me ponder, was the one where Anne asked if Gifty believed in evolution:

“Of course I believe in evolution,” I said.

“Okay, but how can you believe in evolution and also believe in God? Creationism and evolution are diametrically opposed.”

Gifty, who had her Bible verses memorized when she was young, struggled with that contradiction too; on one hand she was raised to believe that God was the answer to everything, on the other, she found herself seeking answers in science in drug addiction and depression, “but ultimately both have failed to fully satisfy in their aim: to make clear, to make meaning.”

Gifty once asked a TA, “If the brain makes it possible for ‘us’ to feel and think, then what is ‘us’? Do you believe in souls?”

Even with her belief in science, she still held her faith in her religion and developed a deeper appreciation for the Bible when she read it to her mother during her depression, after years of abandoning it.

Yaa Gyasi (pronounced yar jessie) is a very gifted author. She writes evocatively and empathetically. She captured Gifty’s fierce, strong-willed mother vividly and showed how much depression affected her, while retaining her strength:

“My mother crawled out of her deep, dark tunnel, but perhaps this phrasing is too imprecise, the image of crawling too forceful to encapsulate the relentless but quiet work of fighting depression. Perhaps it was more correct to say that her darkness lifted, the tunnel shallowed, so that it felt as though her problems were on the surface of the Earth again, not down in its molten core.”

Gyasi also showed the struggles of African immigrants that we would not have seen or known as outsiders. When Nana kept scoring the goals for his team in one of his games, his family was called ‘niggers’ by the opponent’s family. As though being fueled by it, Nana performed even better. They celebrated the event, which to the outside world, might seem like they’d forgotten about that racist name-calling. But that day, Gifty learned a lifelong lesson, “that I would always have something to prove and that nothing but blazing brilliance would be enough to prove it.”

If you like reading a book that explores various themes concisely, one that makes you think, question, reflect and discuss, this one’s for you. There were many blazingly brilliant passages in this book that’d make for great book club discussions.

I can’t believe I haven’t read Homegoing. I must correct that soon.

On a side note, another great book I read on immigration and the ripple effects it has on families, is Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Bern.

Have you read ‘Transcendent Kingdom’? Or Homegoing? What did you think? Please share with me your thoughts!

18 Comments Add yours

  1. I have not read Homegoing or this novel but I am aware of the ripples they have created. I have to be in the mindset to read these and have done so a lot in my upper 20’s and my 30’s. Currently I just read to relax.
    Your review is amazing, as usual. There seem to be a lot of different components at play. Not only for spiritual answers and coming of age, but conflicts with science, addiction and immigration . All of it together is heavy and it sounds tragic. Not a walk of life many can handle but we are dealt out cards individually and carry different burdens. Must be an amazing author to put it all into words – cohesive to fill a book in this journey. Glad you enjoyed it so much 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, Scarlett! I agree with you, everyone carries different burdens. Just today, I got to know of Christy Tiegen’s miscarriage…It’s just so devastating and heartbreaking :~~( It also made me think, what would Gifty do? How would she heal if this were her? Life can be so cruel…2020 hasn’t been good for many… 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I saw that 😦 Very sad.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Rosie Amber says:

    It is an age old argument, I recently read a science based book on our beginnings and it made me ponder lots of things about us humans. It is good to read books which make us think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      OH my! Rosie, I’m curious about that book you just read. Are you planning to review it? Yes, I love books that make us think!

      Like

  3. nsfordwriter says:

    Fantastic review Jee! I’ll look out for this one if my library get it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, NS! I hope you’ll enjoy it too when you get to read it 🙂 This book really makes good book discussions too! If only I were in a book club ahhahaa But that’s just too much of a social effort for me LOL

      Liked by 1 person

      1. nsfordwriter says:

        I’m not in a book club either, never mind, blogging is kind of like a book club 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Rae Longest says:

    Boy, are you up to date. Heard about this book on TV this morning. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Hahaha 😀 This book has been getting a lot of rave reviews 🙂 Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Leslie says:

    Great review!! I almost picked this for my BoTM last month but didn’t. I might have to do it as an add-on for November!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, Leslie! I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did! 💕

      Liked by 1 person

  6. stargazer says:

    This book has been on my radar for a while and your review certainly confirmed that it’s an interesting one, I ought to pick up. I’ve always been fascinated by the discussion of science vs religion, although personally I don’t see one ruling out the other. Stories which make your head hurt in a good way are the best!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      I agree to one not ruling out the other and stories that make you think are indeed the best! I’m so glad I found you here, stargazer! I find that we share quite similar tastes in books!! 💕💕

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Such a beautiful review, Jee! You definitely have to read Homegoing! You are going to love it too! I am reading this one in January I think because I’m buddy reading it with an overseas friend when it releases there. I can’t wait! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      I hope you’ll enjoy it too, Jennifer! Wow you have friends everywhere :)💕 and yes I’m bringing Homegoing higher up on my tbr pile 😄

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Another excellent review of what sounds like a brilliant book! I love that it explores and tackles science and religion. I think it’s something that even today manages to draw a lot of debates, some with less rational and cohesion thoughts to back up arguments, but still fascinating in just the existence of such debates. Thanks for sharing, Jee! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      I agree, Lashaan! And thank you for reading! I appreciate it 💕

      Liked by 1 person

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