Addiction is simply relinquishing your rights as the owner and controller of your life, to the addictive substance.

Ezioma Kalu.


Gifty is a fifth-year candidate in neuroscience at Stanford 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 a knee 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.


In Transcendent Kingdom, Yaa Gyasi shows us what it feels like to be in constant wonder of why the things happening to you, are happening to you. The story takes us through the life of the 28 year old protagonist Gifty, who lives her life in phases of fear, loneliness, grief, questions.
Being an African immigrant, a Ghanaian who lives in Alabama, America, with her mother and only brother Nana, her life is filled with many unanswered questions. For every time she asks her mum about her life in Ghana, and their other family members, she is met with a deafening silence, and a mother who would rather keep to her work, than clarify her daughter.
Juggling between so many jobs, Gifty’s mother neither have nor make out time for any of her kids. She doesn’t try in the least, to be an ideal mother to them and answer her daughter’s ceaseless questions. Thereby, leaving the kids to choose their preferred lives, by themselves.

The truth is we don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t even know the questions we need to ask in order to find out, but when we learn one tiny little thing, a dim light comes on in a dark hallway, and suddenly a new question appears.

Yaa Gyasi, Transcendent Kingdom

However, she makes one thing certain to Gifty, she was born by mistake. For Gifty’s mother who is content with having only a son, Nana, she doesn’t understand why providence deemed it fit to send her a daughter too, years after the boy was born.
And so, she doesn’t hesitate to let Gifty know of how much of a pain in the ass she is. She isn’t the wanted child, Nana is, and that piece of information would never elude Gifty’s memory.
The book reveals how so many people shut out the problems they’re facing, and instead turn to religion and God instead. Gifty’s mother is a renowned Christian, who believes so much in God and who teaches her kids to grow in the same way.

If I’ve thought of my mother as callous, and many times I have, then it is important to remember what a callus is: the hardened tissue that forms over a wound.

Yaa Gyasi, Transcendent Kingdom.

But when things start to fall apart, when Nana, the talented athlete starts to take opoids, because of a knee injury that wouldn’t heal, when he starts to get addicted to hard drugs, she doesn’t know what to do. Instead, she turns to God, because he’s the only solution to every problem.
Gifty’s life hovers around her research as a medical student, working on a doctorate in neuroscience at Stanford’s School of Medicine. She is studying reward-seeking behaviors in mice and trying so hard to find the science behind addiction and depression.

It took me many years to realize that it’s hard to live in this world. I don’t mean the mechanics of living, because for most of us, our hearts will beat, our lungs will take in oxygen, without us doing anything at all to tell them to. For most of us, mechanically, physically, it’s harder to die than it is to live. But still we try to die.

Yaa Gyasi, Transcendent Kingdom.

This is long after she loses her brother Nana to death, by substance addiction, which also sends her mother through the long trip of chronic depression.
When her mother comes to live with her, she is absolutely depressed, she doesn’t get up her bed, doesn’t eat, doesn’t live.
This grief of losing everything that means dearly to her, makes Gifty to shut out every chance of maintaining proper relationships with other people. Instead, she channels all her energy into her research and her lab mice.

My memories of him, though few, are mostly pleasant, but memories of people you hardly know are often permitted a kind of pleasantness in their absence. It’s those who stay who are judged the harshest, simply by virtue of being around to be judged.

Yaa Gyasi, Transcendent Kingdom.

Gifty’s only goal, is to find the reasons why people get addicted. Is it to help them get through a particular pain, or simply the sheer curiosity of trying out new things? Humans would purposely expose themselves to harm just for the mere fun of it, and for their curiosity satisfaction.
One would deliberately shove their head in a deep pool, just to know how much they could hold on to their breaths. So it remains a conundrum to Gifty, to find out when curiosity ends and addiction sets in. And that is why she chooses her course of study, Neuroscience, to study human brains, and the science behind how they work.
Then there is the case of depression. For Gifty, who only knows depression as a synonym to sadness, she doesn’t know what to do, when her mother is diagnosed of a mental illness, depression.

We humans are reckless with our bodies, reckless with our lives, for no other reason than that we want to know what would happen, what it might feel like to brush up against death, to run right up to the edge of our lives, which is, in some ways, to live fully.

Yaa Gyasi, Transcendent Kingdom.

She doesn’t know anhedonia, a feeling of nothing, an inability to feel anything or pleasure even, is a symptom of depression, an acute mental illness.
She resorts to research, when God doesn’t answer all her questions to him in the journal she keeps, all the way from her childhood through her adulthood.
She wants to know the ‘why’ of everything that keeps happening, and when God doesn’t answer, she slowly and steadily loses her will to pray, to keep asking God.
Transcendent Kingdom is a very touching story about a girl, whose life goes the exact opposite direction of what she ever wants it to be. It revolves around the themes of race, immigration, addiction, depression, self, grief and loss. The book is a 4/5 for me.

Have you read the book? What do you feel about it? Please share your thoughts with me in the comment section. Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter, follow me on all social media platforms and share with your friends.
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