book review: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi





TRANSCENDENT KINGDOM by Yaa Gyasi
★★★★★
Knopf, 2020


This book absolutely floored me. I read it in under 24 hours, though it’s almost difficult to explain why: it’s not (ostensibly) a page-turner and there’s really no plot to speak of. But once I started reading I couldn’t stop; I found Gyasi’s prose so inviting and mesmerising and before I knew it I’d read the whole thing and it had utterly wrecked me.

The thing about Transcendent Kingdom is that it has no business working as well as it does. Gyasi tackles grief, siblinghood, loneliness, immigration, racism, science, religion, and opioid addiction, and it feels almost too ambitious for a book under 300 pages. Often when authors try to balance this many disparate threads, some get lost in the shuffle; it’s challenging to navigate each topic with the weight and respect they deserve, but that’s exactly what Gyasi does here–everything coheres seamlessly.

It’s a difficult book to review, though, because I’ve probably just made it sound like it’s a novel full of ideas and nothing else. But the most impressive thing Gyasi does is perform her thorough thematic excavation without sacrificing the narrative. Again, it’s not a plot-heavy book, but it’s effectively character-driven, and Gifty, a neuroscientist coping with the death of her brother and her difficult relationship with her mother, is a brilliant, vibrant, believable protagonist.

This is one of the most technically impressive and emotionally resonant books I’ve read in ages; it deserves all the hype and more.