Review: Homegoing / Transcendent Kingdom
Updated: Sep 12
5/5 stars - Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi (2016)
3/5 stars - Transcendent Kingdom, by Yaa Gyasi (2020)
I just finished reading Transcendent Kingdom, and realized that because I read Gyasi's debut novel Homegoing before I started this blog, I never wrote a review of it. But Homegoing is one of the best books I've read in years! So, it seemed important to tell you how much I loved that one, before I tell you how this second one didn't quite reach the same heights, for me, despite Gyasi's incredible ability to create beautiful scenes, elegant prose, and extremely realistic characters in both.
I love a book that follows generations of the same family, all intertwining in different ways throughout the years. Homegoing follows the very different lives of the two daughters of an Asante woman in Ghana. One daughter, Effia, marries a British governor, and her descendants remain in Ghana, while her sister Esi is captured and sold to America as a slave. The book follows generation after generation of their children, eventually leading to some of those future generations meeting again. Each chapter, or vignette, reads like a short story all on it's own, alternating between Effia's descendants and Esi's.
The book is as beautiful as it is brutal, not shying away from the ruthlessness and sadness of slavery - how it affected those that were sold into it, as well as those left behind in Africa. The storytelling is incredibly moving and powerful. I only wished there was a family tree in the book, as sometimes it was a bit difficult to keep track of what line we were in, and how everyone was related.
Gyasi's skill as a writer shines through in her second novel about a Ghanaian family living in Alabama. I just didn't connect to the main themes as much as I did with Homegoing - namely, the main character's struggle with her religion and her belief in God. That's just never a topic that draws me in.
A devoutly Christian mother moves to the U.S. with her young son Nana. Her husband follows soon after, and they have another child, a young girl named Gifty - the main character of the novel. As a young child, Gifty is "saved" in her church, but after Nana's painful struggle with addiction, his eventual overdose, and their mother's suicidal mental breakdown thereafter, Gifty abandons religion. As an adult, she turns toward science to try to find the root causes of addiction, but continues to grapple with what her faith means to her. It is "a novel about faith, science, religion, love." It is a beautiful book. I just didn't find the grappling very compelling.
UP NEXT: Home Fire, by Kamila Shamsie