When a Haunted Past Overtakes Us | Sojourners

When a Haunted Past Overtakes Us

’Transcendent Kingdom' by Yaa Gyasi shows that in the darkness of loss, there can be great meaning in the searching.’

IN THE NOVEL Transcendent Kingdom, Gifty is a doctoral candidate in neuroscience at Stanford University, aiming to identify the neural pathways that suppress reward-seeking behavior. She is at the lab trying to keep two mice from tearing each other apart when her mother’s pastor calls. Gifty’s mother is sick, severely depressed ever since her son, Gifty’s brother Nana, died of a heroin overdose. Now, years later, Gifty wants nothing more than to bring her mother back to life.

In her second book, author Yaa Gyasi continues to grapple with familial loss and inheritance. But while her debut novel Homegoing examined the legacy of slavery, Transcendent Kingdom follows a young woman as she recalls her immigrant family’s triumphs alongside their devastating fight with depression and addiction. Through her methodical (scientific, spiritual, and philosophical) inquiry, Gifty tries to keep their memories alive.

What happens when the past haunts and overwhelms the present? At 28, Gifty’s life is lonely lab work and rumination, a mother unresponsive save for her hum, a father so distant he is not called by name. Even when Gifty is silent, the past reverberates loudly in her relationships. If she can find answers to her research questions, perhaps one day someone could be saved from the throes of addiction. But who will save her?

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