Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What is the cost of the American Dream? Of uprooting your family, letting go of all that you hold dear, all that anchors you? This novel is a powerful and poignant read wherein a Ghanaian family's story is told through the eyes of its youngest, Gifty. While trying to complete her doctoral neuroscience research, Gifty struggles to shoulder the unyielding burden of abandonment, drug addiction, depression, and loss that has essentially torn her family apart.
There is a brilliant moment in the novel where Gifty, feeling like a fish out of water at a dinner party full of literati, mockingly narrates her experience of listening to them rave about allegories. Here, the novel becomes self aware, and Gyasi uses the phrase "generational trauma among diasporic communities". This is precisely what this novel was - a transfixing tale about the unspoken traumas often wrought by the push and pull of the American Dream. The separation of families from their homelands, the separation of family members from each other, can set in motion a chain of events that unwittingly leads to tragedy. But, as a coping and survival mechanism, all too often these tragedies are left unspoken, cast aside in favor of the narrative of triumph and success in the face of struggle.
Gifty channels her almost obsessive preoccupation with her brother's untimely death and her mother's depression into her work. Through her neuroscience research, which is pretty much all Gifty makes space for in her life, we get a glimpse into the psyche of a woman trying her hardest to work through her trauma while holding what's left of her family (and her belief in God) together. The writing is breathtaking; Gyasi masterfully weaves together past and present, the voice of Gifty's inner child propelling the story along in a way that leaves the reader enraptured. Gifty may put on a brave face for the world, but her pain is palpable.
I personally found this novel to be eerily relatable. While this novel would be an enriching read for people of all backgrounds, Gyasi spoke to an experience that truly hit home for me as a Black first generation American. I saw my family in Gifty's family and I saw myself in Gifty. Though at points I found myself feeling choked up - and I might have shed a tear or two - by the novel's end I felt at peace. This isn't a novel that is chock full of action; it is meditative and introspective, and if you're willing to sit with the story for a while, it can be quite a beautiful journey.
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