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Yaa Gyasi's Transcendent Kingdom Shines Bright

September 9, 2020
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"Writing felt in some ways as an act of love and justice." -Yaa Gyasi

Fresh Air recently did an incredible piece on author Yaa Gyasi about her newest novel, Transcendent Kingdom. Transcendent Kingdom is the stunning follow-up to Gyasi's acclaimed national best seller Homegoing. It is a powerful, raw, intimate, deeply layered novel about a Ghanaian family in Alabama.

The novel is based on Gyasi's own experience: her family immigrated from Ghana to the USA when she was a toddler, but it wasn't until she was 9 and her family moved to Huntsville, Ala., that she began to feel like she didn't fit in.

In her own words: "In every other place that we had lived, there was a decent sized West African immigrant community. But when we got to Huntsville, there was, like, one other family in Meridianville that was Ghanaian and that was it... I was writing about the places that I knew best, particularly Huntsville, Ala., the place that I grew up in, and I was also writing about religion, which was a big part of my life and my childhood... It was an opportunity, I think, for me to revisit that time in my life."

The story stars Gifty, a sixth-year PhD candidate in neuroscience at the Stanford University School of Medicine studying reward-seeking behavior in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction. Her brother, Nana, was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose after an ankle injury left him hooked on OxyContin. Her suicidal mother is living in her bed. Gifty is determined to discover the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all around her. But even as she turns to the hard sciences to unlock the mystery of her family’s loss, she finds herself hungering for her childhood faith and grappling with the evangelical church in which she was raised, whose promise of salvation remains as tantalizing as it is elusive.

Transcendent Kingdom is a deeply moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants ravaged by depression and addiction and grief–a novel about faith, science, religion, love. Exquisitely written, emotionally searing, this is an exceptionally powerful follow-up to Gyasi’s phenomenal debut.

Fresh Air interview

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