With Transcendent Kingdom, Yaa Gyasi (Homegoing) crafts a superbly nuanced portrait of a Ghanaian American woman trying to make sense of her present through her past--a past tragically rocked by her brother's fatal opioid addiction.
A Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience at Stanford, Gifty spends her waking hours using mice to study the neural factors in reward-seeking behavior and addiction, and returns home only to sleep, eat and, newly, care for her bedridden and depressed mother. Gifty is undoubtedly brilliant and driven, but she is also detached--save for two friendships with gently determined colleagues. Unbeknown to most, Gifty's research and fervor are born of devastating events during her childhood in conservative and often racist Huntsville, Ala., where she grew up in a religious Ghanaian immigrant family. And, thus, Gifty strives to know, "could this science work on the people who need it the most? Could it get a brother to set down a needle? Could it get a mother out of bed?" With her mother a corporeal reminder of shared losses, Gifty scrutinizes her own grief, shame and trauma, turning to memory and revisiting childhood journal entries addressed to God ("Dear God, Please hurry up and make Buzz better. I want the whole church to see").
In this remarkable narrative that is at once beautifully lucid and brimming with emotional complexity, Gyasi examines and challenges the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding addiction and mental health while asking philosophical questions about the power and limits of faith, science and redemption. --Sylvia Al-Mateen, freelance reviewer and editor