ROPES Book Awards: Mary-Louise's Pick
By Yaa Gyasi
pp. 262, 16.51
Yaa Gyasi has outdone herself once again with the publication of her second novel: Transcendent Kingdom. A story about one of capitalism’s biggest illusions ‘The American Dream’. As a child, Gifty would beg for her parents to tell her the story of how they got to Alabama from Ghana. Gyasi conveys a story about what it’s like to have a complicated relationship with one’s home country when you are a child of an immigrant, the odd feeling of not fitting in anywhere because you are not ‘American enough’ in one context and ‘too American’ in another.
Gifty’s parents don’t have an easy time settling in, her mother is constantly working, while her father finds it difficult to hold down a steady job. Nana, her older brother was the catalyst for their move. Her parents sacrificed everything for their eldest son to live in America and have more than they may have had in Ghana. Although her father never settled in, he became the homemaker and Gifty fondly remembers the times he would pick her up from school and feed her dinner.
Many years on, Gifty is now living in San Francisco, a Neuroscience PhD student desperately trying to understand the opioid addiction that destroyed Nana’s life. When her mother comes for a prolonged stay, it becomes obvious how poor her mental health is as she spends all her time in bed sleeping. While Gifty is testing her mice in the Stanford University lab, she hopes her mother will awaken from her sadness.
Gifty and her mother become to understand one another during this time and learn how they can rebuild their futures with the rubble of their pasts. The realities of immigrant life in America paired with the fact that they are one of the only black families in their community speaks to an experience everyone needs to read. This novel is vitally important and talks about many issues in an approachable and empathetic way.