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Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

2020, Alfred A. Knopf

This is one of several books I've read recently which I would like to post quickly.

Why quickly? I'll try to explain. Since my mother died this summer, I have gone through many states of being and many emotions. Somedays everything seems normal, other days I miss my Mom, and still other days, I feel myself slipping into a pattern of anxiety which keeps me from sleeping and twists my perception of life's smallest activities.

Which brings me to why my books must be posted quickly! In front of me I have six recently read novels, and the thought of them sitting there for several weeks while I find the time to write a post about them seems too much to bear! Even though posting these books is clearly one of life's small activities, even though my beloved readers are few in number, even though there is no logical reason, no urgency, no importance, I just have to get them posted for some peace of mind. (Which gives you an idea of my state of mind...)

The mind is a good place to start when speaking of Yaa Gyasi's new novel and my bookclub's latest read, Transcendent Kingdom. The narrator Gifty is studying mice in order to unlock the mysteries of the human brain. She says that the human is the only animal who believes he has "transcended his Kingdom." "That belief, that transcendence, (is) held within this organ itself. Infinite, unknowable, soulful, perhaps even magical."

The novel attempts to explore mental illness, drug addiction, racism, religion, science and the nature of human understanding through the story of Gifty's family, immigrants from Ghana to the Southern United States.

I found the novel uninspiring and the writing unconvincing, and only read to the end for the bookclub discussion. The fiery, imaginative, flowing prose of Gyasi's first novel, Homegoing , was nowhere to be read. Did the publishers rush Gyasi to produce following her first novel, a huge success, in order to get out another book and reap the benefits, I wondered. Had they suggested she deal with themes likely to attract the public like depression, opioid addiction and the debate between religion and science? The characters seemed one-sided and not believable, not developed enough. The ideas were interesting, but I would have preferred reading about them in an article, not in fiction written (at times) like an article.

Am I too harsh? At least one critic doesn't agree with me at all, and the reactions of my fellow bookclub members were more positive. J liked the themes dealing with issues like mental illness and racism, as did Y, although she agreed Homegoing was a better novel, and wished the mother character had been more developed.

I've been searching for a photo of my "bookies" and I having tea at one of our bookclubs, but can't find it. Another example of a small life activity which illogically causes anxiety! When I find it I'll add!

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