Review: Transcendent Kingdom, by Yaa Gyasi
This was a glorious book. That's it, that's the tweet.
This book tells the story of Gifty, the daughter of Ghanaian immigrants, who is getting her PhD in neuroscience and is doing research on the impact of addiction on the brain and potential cures. We find out later in the novel that her older brother died of a heroin overdose when she was still a child, and that her mother suffers from severe depression.
I absolutely adored this book. You wouldn't think that a story about addiction and depression and how a scientist lost her faith and found some version of it again would be a hopeful book, but my God, it really was. The timeline is very constrained - the present day of the novel, Gifty's work with her lab and her relationships with her cohort and her mother's relapse into depression, and because Yaa Gyasi isn't trying to cram too much into her short book, we were able to spend a great deal of time in Gifty's memories and draw our own connections between the memory she was recollecting and her actions and thoughts and motivations in the present. And the writing was just so absolutely gorgeous - lush and descriptive and subtle, and all rendered so simply that you sometimes didn't notice how beautiful some of the sentences were until you'd had the chance to think them over. I oftentimes wished I was the type of person who could disfigure books by writing them in, because my God, some of those sentences - I wanted to highlight them so I could keep them forever in my mind. Unfortunately I will have to settle for not lending this book to anybody so that I never run the risk of losing my copy.
The characterization of the two main characters, Gifty and her mother, was also magnificently well-handled. They were both so intensely real - shades of gray, and nuance to their decisions and motivations, and nothing about the way they thought or acted was drawn in black and white. And everything in this story was handled so deftly and with such compassion, I was actually truly quite angry when the book ended.
Right, that's all I really have to say about this - just everyone go read this book, it's so unbelievably good. A shoo-in for the Best of 2021 list (which might have to expand to 20 books rather than 10 this year, as we're not even halfway through March and I've already got seven titles in consideration. It is a GOOD reading year so far).
Why are you still reading this review? Go read Transcendent Kingdom instead.