Cover Image: Transcendent Kingdom

Transcendent Kingdom

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Member Reviews

Ever since I read Homecoming by Yaa Gyasi, every few months without fail I would google her name to see when she would be releasing a follow up.  The wait was worth it.
Beautiful and lyrical, Transcendent Kingdom is a story of family, of home, faith, mental health, addiction, and the struggles of immigrants.
Well done!
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Transcendent Kingdom is a stunning follow up to Gyasi's award-winning debut, "Homegoing". Her range is on full display with her second novel--where Homegoing was expansive, following multiple generations over centuries, Transcendent Kingdom stays close to its protagonist Gifty's internal life and struggles with her family, her faith, her growth and eventual self-acceptance. She deftly weaves Gifty's early life experience, wounded by an absent father, an addicted brother, her relationship with God, and a depressed mother, with her education, her research in neuroscience and her adult relationships.
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Yaa Gyasi’s writing rips at your soul.  She captures the impact of faith, especially as experienced in the South by a young immigrant family, can have on their life.  It can carry you or it can abandon you. The twining of faith, drug addiction and loss throughout the book keep you reading and looking for some hope for characters.
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Pretty sure I read Homegoing as an ARC, too, though it was on paper, not via NetGalley. The reviews and blurbs I’ve seen mention how different this second novel is. To me, it’s as if the very last chapter of Homegoing - the one set in the present - were the first chapter of the new book: more narrowly focused, completely contemporary, and set almost entirely in the U.S. I have to say, though, that I have mixed feelings about this one. The exploration of addiction and depression in all their complexity was moving, and, to my knowledge, honest. But Gifty seemed to proclaim new insights all too often, sometimes more than once in a single chapter. She drew connections and conclusions as if writing a college admissions essay. While this may have been true to her character (assiduous, accommodating, wise), it made for a didactic tone. I wonder if presenting the narrative as a journal - or at least with excerpts from her present journal rather than just the childhood one - would have helped. In any case, her reflections on religion and science were interesting enough, and I loved the attention paid to the impact of shame on friendship. Absolutely worth reading, especially if you like self-examination in your first-person narrators.
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Immigration, mental health, drug addiction, and the pull of science vs. faith are all a part of this HUGE, spectacular story. This book may gut you but it is ultimately a survival story that should be added to everyone's TBR list. I wouldn't be surprised to see this on many award lists this year.
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wow, this is a thoughtful read. Also unexpected, and lovely, steeped in grief for family members, but not without hope.
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Transcendent Kingdom was a great exploration of the tension between science and religion as well as a compelling story of an immigrant family and the ways a family is influenced by opiate addiction. I also really enjoyed the description of what it's like to be a lab scientist.
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I don’t have the words to do this story justice. It is one I highly recommend you read. I can tell you how it made me feel. 
     It is a story about a family that migrates from Ghana to Alabama. As a daughter, a sister and a mother this story resonated deeply with me. An eleven year old girl going through the pain of her brothers drug addiction and ultimately his death. A young daughter losing her mother to depression and trying so hard to be the savior. A mother’s worst nightmare, not being able to save her son or herself. These words were so powerfully written that I felt them heart and soul. Hard to believe that it is not a true story although it is all to real for too many. 
     As the girl, Gifty, becomes a women she has to rebuild herself to survive. She is a scientist that is still searching for her place spiritually and emotionally. Definitely a top read of this year  for me and one I won’t soon forget.
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In Transcendent Kingdom, we are in the head of the main character, who is a graduate student of neurobiology, as she wrestles with the death of her brother by overdose, her mother’s depression, abandonment by her father, and the science she is dedicating her life to. Interwoven through all of this is her upbringing in an evangelical church, and her attempts to discern between what she has been taught about God, seeing God, or the lack thereof through others actions, and her own questions that are raised about God as she goes through her lab experiments.

Many will identify with her struggles. You feel for her brother and how tragically human it is to die as he did; you can identify with her loss. You want the mother to become healthy again, for both of them. And then, too abruptly, the story ends. It really seemed like author didn’t know how to end this story. Maybe that was the point, as apparently she still hadn’t made sense of the place God has in her life.
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I did not love this book the way I had hoped to, based on my experience of reading the author’s debut novel, Homegoing. Gifty is studying neuroscience at Stanford, hoping to find some answers to her questions about addiction and depression. Her brother, Nana, died of an overdose after becoming addicted to Oxycontin following a sports injury, and Gifty’s mother has taken to her bed in a deep depression, so she has some personal connection to her studies. This is a book about faith, and family, addiction, depression, and the ways our bodies and our minds hold onto beliefs and behaviors despite our best efforts to move beyond what our early experiences have taught us. There are layers to Gifty’s story, and they unravel themselves slowly. The writing is nuanced, but there are long passages about philosophy and religion which feel more like a lecture than part of the story. The characters were not developed fully enough, and the stray was lacking emotional depth. A good follow-up, not a great one, but I will look for Yaa Gyasi’s next novel for sure.
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While Homegoing is certainly a high bar to meet, I believe that the author has accomplished this, albeit on a different scale.  Homegoing felt ethereal and expansive, while Transcendent Kingdom is beautiful and feels closer to our daily lives.  It is a very moving story about problems that impact many of us at some point in our lives - drug addiction, depression, and being raised in a single-parent household struggling to make ends meet.  It is moving without feeling heavy and without feeling like a lecture is being delivered.  I found it to be incredibly raw and impactful while still being hopeful!
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Transcendent Kingdom is a perfect work of fiction. Gifty's world is fueled by the need to understand her brother's addiction and mother's depression. As a student of neuroscience she is experimenting on mice to find and neutralize the trigger for addiction. Every word Gyasi uses has power; not a single one out of place. Gyasi is a force of a writer.
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This book is going to be on Best of 2020 lists everywhere soon. It is that good. I loved Yaa Gyasi's debut, "Homegoing" and like many did a happy dance when I saw that her sophomore effort was set to grace us this fall. Leave your expectations at the door, this is not even remotely like "Homegoing" and shouldn't be judged against it.  This book is everything I hoped it would be and then some. 

I usually write a short plot summary for the books I review, but for this one I am not sure I should. Going in to this book with little background was a good thing for me. I had no expectations and was fully immersed as a result. What I will say is this is about science & faith, family & identity, sorrow & grief. It is a character study, but there is a solid plot for those that prefer plot driven novels. 

My advice is to block off an afternoon (or the day) and just sink deep into this beautiful book and  all the feelings that come along with it. 

Thank you to Yaa Gyasi, Netgalley, and Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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September 1 is going to be a huge pub date, I can feel it. I've been waiting for this latest by Yaa Gyasi since I closed the covers of her last book and this title was, unbelievably, even better than I could have hoped. What an achievement.
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Absolutely loved this book! Cannot wait for everyone to experience it. Honnestly, I could go on and on about this book. I went in expecting to be underwhelmed or comparing this to Homegoing but I was SHOOK at how Gyasi took a total 180 and brought us something fresh, excellent and real.

If you are looking for your next favourite book- THIS IS IT!!!
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Yaa Gyasi has outdone herself with this gorgeous novel that focuses on a Ghanaian family living in Alabama. The title refers to a lesson Gifty learned from a science teacher, that Homo sapiens are the only animal who believes they have transcended their Kingdom (23) - but of course, it also refers to her family who have immigrated from the Kingdom of Ghana. Gifty is raised in a Southern Pentecostal church, but loses her faith as she grows (transcends?) and embraces neuroscience as her chosen path. Or is it the Kingdom of Ghana that transcends its borders to flow around the world? Or Gifty's unique understanding of the mind as completely integrated with the heart and soul?

   "In the book of Matthew, Jesus says You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Here is a separation. Your heart, the part of you that feels. Your mind, the part of you that thinks. Your soul, the part of you that is. I almost never hear neuroscientists speak about the soul. Because of our work, we are often given to thinking about the part of humans that is the vital, inexplicable essence of ourselves, as the workings of our brains - mysterious, elegant, essential. Everything we don't understand about what makes a person a person can be uncovered once we understand this organ. There is no separation. Our brains are our hearts that feel and our minds that think and our souls that are. But when I was a child I called this essence a soul and I believed in its supremacy over the mind and the heart, its immutability and connection to Christ himself." (67)


As the novel unfolds, we learn why Gifty is drawn to this specialty and in particular her research on addiction. At first, I was fairly skeeved out by her research, in which she addicts mice to Ensure and then does brain surgery on them to try to isolate and understand the brain at the neuron level. But the way she understood this work through the lens of her religious upbringing was strikingly beautiful:

    "When the wounded mouse finally died, I held his little body. I rubbed the top of his head, and I thought of it as a blessing, a baptism. Whenever I fed the mice or weighed them for the lever press task, I always thought of Jesus in the upper room, washing his disciples' feet. This moment of servitude, of being quite literally brought low, always reminded me that I needed these mice just as much as they needed me. More. What would I know about the brain without them? How could I perform my work, find answers to my questions? The collaboration that the mice and I have going in this lab is, if not holy, then at least sacrosanct. I have never, will never, tell anyone that I sometimes think this way, because I'm aware that the Christians in my life would find it blasphemous and the scientists would find it embarrassing, but the more I do this work the more I believe in a kind of holiness in our connection to everything on Earth. Holy is the mouse. Holy is the grain the mouse eats. Holy is the seed. Holy are we." (84)


As the novel progresses, the back story is filled out and we come to understand Gifty's father's absence, her brother Nana's opioid addiction, and her mother's depression. It's heartbreaking to read about a time period I lived through myself, heavy with "just say no" campaigns (no drugs! no sex!) that completely failed. It's uncomfortable to read about racism directed toward a black African family in the deep South, all the more so because they seem to have no real understanding of the racial history of the U.S. Gifty's trips to Ghana are fascinating, as well.

I could keep going, but you should just read the book. It's stunning and I'm so glad that Gyasi is just getting started - I can't wait to read a lifetime of novels written by her!
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Homegoing is one of my favorite books of all time, so I was incredibly excited to read the second book by Yaa Gyasi. It is very different from Homegoing, but it is SO GOOD. Everything about this book felt true. The story of Gifty and her family and how their lives are changed by addiction and depression is beautifully written and important to read.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for letting me read this one!
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4.5/5 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Gifty is a PhD candidate at Stanford 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 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 church, whose promise of salvation remains as tantalizing as it is elusive. 

This book does not disappoint. Homegoing is one of my favorite books and Gyasi’s follow up to her stellar debut was fantastic. I was deeply moved by this book. It’s incredibly sad but I thought it was such an important story to tell. I loved how she connected Gifty’s research in present day to her family’s struggles in the past. Gyasi is a sensational storyteller and I highly recommend this book.
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This novel is a portrait of a family from Ghana, immigrants who have expressed depression, addiction and grief.  However it is also a novel about faith, science, religion and love.  Highly recommend!
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A brilliant PhD candidate's career in neuroscience is shaped by her struggles with her brother's fatal heroin overdose, her mother's resulting depression, and her own struggle with faith and love. Transcendent Kingdom is an emotional novel, at many times tragic and despairing, and at the same time hopeful.
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