This novel is so breathtakingly good that I’m afraid my review cannot do justice to it. In less than three hundred pages, Yaa Gyasi escorts us on a desperate journey of personal trauma and disillusionment that only a person of strong character could survive.
Gifty is such a person. The child of a Ghanian couple who came to America in search of a better life, she is a sixth-year graduate student at Stanford. She performs lab experiments on mice in search of a cure for drug addiction. Her motivations are complex: the father who abandoned the family; her brother’s death from a bout with pain killers; her mother’s subsequent grief and withdrawal; and Gifty’s own reactions that have shaken her deep faith in God.
In frank and eloquent language, Gifty tells how her experiences have left her so introverted and single-minded that even those who love her cannot break through her defenses. At first, she seems a heartless scientist, describing in cruel detail her daily tinkering with the brains of mice to answer a fundamental question: “How does an animal restrain itself from pursuing a reward, especially when there is risk involved?” What we discover is that Gifty is seeking not only a scientific breakthrough, but a personal catharsis that will restore her faith and open a path to the rest of her life.
I could quote numerous passages from this book, but the parts would not do justice to the whole. Transcendent Kingdom is such a deeply personal novel that I cannot help wondering if the author is describing her own experiences. Her characters are that well-developed and engaging.
My only reason for limiting my rating to four stars is the regrettable offensive language throughout the book. If you can overlook it, as I managed to do, you will be glad that you joined Gifty on her journey.