Novel Approach: Exploring science, addiction and the soul in ‘Transcendent Kingdom’

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.” — C.S. Lewis

Belief can be tricky. Either you wholeheartedly believe in your faith or you have niggling doubts that crop up at the most inopportune time. The narrator of our latest read finds herself trying to reconcile her religious upbringing with her scientific pursuits.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

In her brilliantly executed sophomore novel, Yaa Gyasi asks readers to follow the protagonist’s internal journey as Gifty struggles to reconcile her religious upbringing with her scientific research after her mother falls into a deep depression.

Gifty is a talented scientist working on a Ph.D. in neuroscience as she studies the brain to try to understand if the brain can be trained to not want something it has grown addicted to. As Gifty tries to care for her mother who has been shipped from Alabama to Gifty’s small student apartment in California, she finds herself forced to think about her family and her childhood.

Gifty was raised by her Ghanaian immigrant parents and lived in the shadow of her talented and beloved older brother, Nana. With a distant father who abandoned her and Nana’s drug addiction, Gifty clung to her mother’s deep love of God to provide some stability in her life.

“Transcendent Kingdom” examines addiction, depression, immigration, racism, religion and science in a beautifully fluid manner that educates the reader while keeping them entranced in Gifty’s story. Readers will find themselves invested in Gifty’s scientific pursuits as she tries to determine whether she believes more in the corporeal practicalities of the mind or the spiritual nature of religion.

From the book jacket...

Gifty is a sixth-year Ph.D. 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.

If you enjoy…

Readers who find themselves captivated by Gifty’s efforts to reconcile her religious and scientific views will enjoy the dazzling mystery and self-discovery found in “The Death of Vivek Oji” by Akwaeke Emezi.