Book Review – Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Genre: Fiction

Rating: 5 / 5

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Don’t let the rating fool you, I disliked every moment I spent reading Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. This novel forced me to encounter grief and heartbreak I have shoved deep, deep, down and would have preferred to leave it there. 

In this novel, Gifty, a young girl who’s family immigrated from Ghana to Alabama, USA, talks about her family dynamics, her brother’s heroin addiction, and the impacts of depression on her mother. I felt raw and exposed. The only way I can effectively portray how this novel made me feel is to share a personal story. 

Like Gifty, I have experienced the frustration, anger, and grief that comes when someone you love suffers from addiction and how you can spend months to years watching them destroy everything around them. No matter how prepared you think you are, no matter how much you convince yourself everything is going to be okay – addiction finds a way to take everything from you. It’s a disease that seeps in and leaves no one untouched. The parallels were uncanny. Gifty’s brother was found in the parking lot of a restaurant; my cousin in the bathroom of Walgreens. 

I was out at a bar with my friends the night I found out my cousin had died. At first I had no idea what my mom was talking about. 

“Brandon is dead,” she said.

I named other boys I knew named Brandon, never once thinking she was talking about my cousin. Once I ran out of Brandons, I took a moment and realized she was talking about the only Brandon I cared about. My favorite cousin. The Brandon we all thought had his addiction under control. 

I refused to come home and hung up the phone. I just started walking, refusing to acknowledge it. Refused to say it out loud. My boyfriend at the time, Keith, grabbed by arm and pulled me back into a hug and I lost it. There I was, standing among a huge group of people hopping between bars, sobbing. I took about 30 seconds to let it out, straightened up, wiped my face, and demanded that we go meet my best friend at the bar down the street.

I knew the moment we locked eyes that my mom had already called her. She walked over to me.

“Are we sad or are we drinking?” she said when she got closer to me. 

I understand, this is not a healthy way of dealing with grief. I understand I should have gone home. I understand that my coping mechanisms, to this day, are not highly recommended. Regardless, I looked at her and said, “drinking.” 

She ordered jagerbombs and that’s the last thing I remember until we were back at my friend’s apartment, me once again sobbing. 

I woke up the next morning, handled my hangover, and headed over to my aunt’s house. I was ready to be with my family, but I didn’t shed another tear until the day of his funeral. I took care of my family.

This book took me right back to where I was the night I found out he had died – sobbing on the sidewalk, unable to name my grief. It was uncomfortable, but until this moment – I didn’t realize how much emotion I still held deep within my heart. 

Yaa Gyasi has created something so real and raw, you become consumed and can’t look away. It’s breaking your heart, but you can’t stop reading. Her words are so honest. It only took me two days to read this one cover-to-cover. 

You need to read this novel. You need to experience the power behind Gifty’s story. I could not recommend Transcendent Kingdom more. 

Buy Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi here at Old Town Books (Alexandria, VA) or at your local bookstore!

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