Overall rating: 5/5
Read if you loved: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (yes, I’m aware I tie everything back to this masterpiece), The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Content warnings: Racism, addiction, loss of a family member, suicide
Happy Thursday, everybody! I’m one week closer to finals and I’m in such a studying slump. It’s simply not working, no matter how hard I try. On the bright side, it means I’m reading more as a form of procrastination but on the other hand…well. I guess my grades will tell 🙈 I was worried going into Transcendent Kingdom because I have seen a lot of mixed reviews – some people loved it, but many were lukewarm and said that Homegoing was much better. I can’t compare the two because there has been too much time in between, but I certainly fall into the camp of loving everything about Transcendent Kingdom.
Gifty is a fifth-year candidate at Stanford University where she is studying the neurocircuitry of addiction. Outside of her research, she is acutely aware of her dwindling family. Her father left them to return to Ghana, her brother, Nana, died from a heroin overdose, and her mother is now spending all of her days in Gifty’s bed, trapped in the depths of severe depression. Hoping to find answers in her scientific work, yet continually drawn to the faith that significantly shaped her childhood, she finds herself lost, uncertain of what she is truly pursuing. An intimate portrait of grief, Transcendent Kingdom explores the places we inhabit when dealt with tragedies, and the places we seek as we attempt to find meaning behind loss.
I immediately connected with Gifty. I don’t share any of her trauma, but there was something about her perspective and the way she analyzes herself that was so incredibly relatable. Her quest to find logic in chaos and to separate emotion from fact is something many readers will be able to understand. Throughout Transcendent Kingdom, we watch her dissect the events of her past using science and religion, often in an effort to reconcile learnings from both. This dichotomy is executed so beautifully, and resulted in several poignant moments in the story. It is not plot-driven by any means; it is more of a deep-dive into her psyche, and the story consists of recollections and reflections from moments in her life that have brought her to where she is, specifically as they pertain to her complex familial and societal relationships. At first, I felt as though the timeline was a little confusing as we jump all over the place but by the end of the book, I appreciated this creative choice as well. It reads like a direct representation of how non-linear one’s journey with grief is, and how regression is often an inescapable part of healing.
And the writing…I swoon over Yaa Gyasi’s writing. It is so effortless to read, even when she’s breaking down complex neuroscience, yet so powerful at the same time (on a side note, I was hoping all the science in this book would get me excited to prep for finals but nope). The second half had my heart breaking into smaller pieces as I flipped each page, but I also could not put the book down. It’s very short and digestible as each chapter only takes a few minutes to read, which compensates for the slow pace of the storytelling itself. I finished the book in three sittings and sat on my couch in a puddle of tears for a while after.
I highly recommend Transcendent Kingdom. It is such a beautiful story if you are open to more of a slow-moving, psychologically-driven, melancholic piece of writing. It deals with so many themes from a very vulnerable perspective, packaging the essence of what I loved about Homegoing into a stylistically distinct narrative. I am so glad it made the shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction because it absolutely deserves it! Let me know if you have read Transcendent Kingdom and what you thought in the comments below.