Book Of The Week, 31st May 2020

Yaa Gyasi: Transcendent Kingdom, HC, £14.99.

Penguin, 2020.

Nominated for the Women Ficiton Prize 2021

Yaa Gyasi’s brilliant second book unfolds a family’s story. How they moved from Ghana to Alabama, how their live changed as the family of four slowly reduces to 3, then 2, finally to a lot of questions about heritage, family, science, religion and grief.

Our protagonist is Gifty. She 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. She denies the connection between her family and her choice of studies. However, she lost her brother to an heroin overdose, and her depressed and suicidal mother is living in her bed.

Gifty is determined to discover the scientific reasons for the suffering in the world around her, not at last in her family. Her attention has been diverted away from her work as her mother moves in. The life she had build for herself was full of many distractions to not think about her brother, her mother, to suppress all these memories of loss. With her mother around she is being confronted with her trauma once more.

We follow her journey of questioning herself and life. She reads her old diaries, recaptures old conversations with her mother and God.

“Gyasi sets up the tension between science and faith as the framework for Gifty’s internal battle, as well as the novel’s subtle tonal shifts between lyricism and intellectualism.” (The Guardian 24th Feb 2021).

Gity is looking for meaning, she wants to organise her world and clear it, make sense if it. Her reflections on science and religion as tools to do so are intimate and deep, and set the tone for this powerful and raw novel. It is a treat to discover all the layers of this book.