Yaa Gyasi has done it again with ‘Transcendent Kingdom’

When Yaa Gyasi published her debut novel Homegoing, it was an immediate sensation. The book went on to win the PEN/ Hemingway Award, NBCC’s John Leonard Award, was
shortlisted for the British Book Award, listed as a New York Times Notable Book of 2016; the praise could continue for another several paragraphs…

So, readers might be wondering, how could Ms. Gyasi live up to the hype of that first novel with her second, Transcendent Kingdom? There are many themes in Transcendent Kingdom that echo those of Homegoing. The relationship between mother and daughter is intimately explored, as is the idea of religion and faith. There is even the academic at Stanford University in both books. Unlike Homegoing however, which traces generations through history, Transcendent Kingdom is set in the present era, and examines acutely relevant issues.

The protagonist, Gifty, is pursuing a PhD in neuroscience at Stanford. Her research looks at reward-seeking behavior in lab mice and the ways in which this relates to both addiction and depression. For a very non-scientific brain like mine, I was worried the research thread would be a bit over my head. Instead, it was captivating, expertly woven into the narrative and easily digestible. Living with Gifty is her suicidal mother, who suffers from a depression that has plagued her since Gifty’s brother, Nana, died from a heroin overdose in high school.

Throughout the present-day narrative, Gifty’s thoughts take her back to her childhood home in Alabama, where her parents settled after immigrating from Ghana. She relives her religious upbringing, grappling with the teachings of the evangelical church she attended as she clings to hard science and facts. The novel is as much about addiction and mental health as it is about love, loss and faith. For those who couldn’t put Homegoing down, Transcendent Kingdom will not disappoint.

The book will be released in September 2020. Pre-order here.