Transcendent Kingdom: Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021

Yaa Gyasi

Transcendent Kingdom: Shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2021
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Transcendent Kingdom: Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021

Yaa Gyasi

Gifty is the younger child in a family of four who have emigrated from Ghana to the American South. While her gorgeous brother is a sports hero, her father longs to return home and her mother is desperate to hold this family of four together. When Gifty’s brother’s glorious success on the basketball court falters, addiction strikes and the mother turns inward, and to religion, to find a cure. Each one of the characters tries to find a way to heal the heartbreak- for the mother it is God, for Gifty’s father it is escape and for Gifty, our narrator - it is science. But can family love survive when the family itself feels like it is on the edge of disappearing?

In her new novel, Yaa Gyasi, by turning her gaze from the historical to the present, has produced an extraordinarily acute and resonant novel about a contemporary family that is as powerful and as moving as her first novel. It confirms her position as one of the country’s most brilliant young novelists.

Review

I loved God, my brother, and my mother, in that order. When I lost my brother, poof went the other two.

Yaa Gyasi’s sophomore novel is a study of relationships. With family. With God. With science. With addiction and depression.

Born in Alabama to Ghanian parents, Gifty bears witness as her family crumbles under the pressure of achieving the American dream. Her mother’s unceasing efforts can’t pull them out of poverty, her brother Nana’s talent with sports can’t keep him from falling victim to the opioid epidemic, and her father’s kindness can’t save him from being cast as a ‘dangerous black man’ in the American South. The dissolution of her family turns Gifty away from God and the fervent religiosity of her mother and towards neuroscience, seeking answers to both her brother’s addiction and her mother’s depression. The story travels through time and across continents to explore the legacy of loss and sorrow. How can Gifty reconcile her professional ambitions and success with her burden of personal trauma?

I was obsessed with Gyasi’s debut Homegoing and eagerly pushed it into the hands of anyone that would let me. The BBC agreed with me and selected Homegoing as one of the ‘100 Novels That Shaped Our World’ in 2019. I came into this novel with high expectations and Transcendent Kingdom did not disappoint. Gyasi has an especial talent for taking the profound (and the profoundly important) and massaging it into a page-turner. Her work is timely, literary, unpretentious, and unputdownable. Her work, like the best fiction, transports the reader to another time, place, and perspective. Transcendent Kingdom cements Yaa Gyasi’s position as one of the best young American novelists and I will be first in line for anything she writes for years to come.


Tristen Brudy works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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