The Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi has been included in many of the lists that name the top books of 2020. I just finished reading it and can see why it has gained such accolades and why several of my friends recommended it to me.
The novel is perfect for our time because it addresses almost every important issue making current news headlines. The complex and well-written story set in Alabama, California and Ghana is about immigration and racism. It is brutally candid in describing the effects of the opioid crisis and the lack of services for people with mental health issues. At its heart is the conflict between science and religion.
Because Yaa Gyasi is a wonderful writer these issues are not addressed in ways that seem forced into the story just to make a point. They are all part and parcel of our heroine Gifty’s life. And a troubled life it is indeed. Gifty is a brilliant neuroscientist trying to solve the mysteries of addiction and depression at the same time as she grieves the death of her brother from a heroin overdose, and provides support to her clinically depressed mother.
I was particularly taken with the book’s exploration of just how damaging and destructive evangelical Christianity can be. Gifty who was raised in its throes tries to turn her back on her religious upbringing but she continues to long for God’s comfort. She refers to it as the ‘knock of God’ on her heart. And she is constantly listening for that knock even when her scientific education makes the absurdity of her faith clear to her.
I found this book hard to read. It may be the perfect book for our time but I don’t think it was a good pick for me at Christmas during a pandemic. I have found that when and where you read a book has almost as much to do with having a satisfying reading experience as the quality of the book itself. I think I should have saved this book for another time. It was too troubling and complicated a story for the troubled and complicated holiday season of 2020.
Yaa Gyasi does end the book on a note of hope but by then I was so saddened by Gifty’s life experiences, that I found the hopeful ending almost hard to believe.
Posts about books that might have been a better fit for Christmas 2020…………