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Summary

Brought to you by Penguin.

From the best-selling author of Homegoing comes a searing novel of love and loss, addiction and redemption, straight from the heart of contemporary America.

As a child Gifty would ask her parents to tell the story of their journey from Ghana to Alabama, seeking escape in myths of heroism and romance. When her father and brother succumb to the hard reality of immigrant life in the American South, their family of four becomes two - and the life Gifty dreamed of slips away.

Years later, desperate to understand the opioid addiction that destroyed her brother's life, she turns to science for answers. But when her mother comes to stay, Gifty soon learns that the roots of their tangled traumas reach farther than she ever thought. Tracing her family's story through continents and generations will take her deep into the dark heart of modern America.

©2020 Yaa Gyasi (P)2020 Penguin Audio

Critic reviews

"I would say that Transcendent Kingdom is a novel for our time (and it is) but it is so much more than that. It is a novel for all times. The splendor and heart and insight and brilliance contained in the pages holds up light the rest of us can follow." (Ann Patchett)

"Absolutely transcendent. A gorgeously woven narrative...not a word or idea out of place. The range. I am quite angry this is so good." (Roxane Gay)

"A stirringly gifted writer." (New York Times)

What listeners say about Transcendent Kingdom

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Beautiful, thought-provoking, educational

My first genre-love is fantasy. I always liked the idea of being able to reflect upon society through this lens and explore and think about uncomfortable topics without the brashness of reality.

Transcendental Kingdom is not fantasy. It deals with triggering topics head on - mental illness within the black community, living as an immigrant (from Africa to the American South), familial loss, addiction, single parent hood and also the stress that comes with ideas about religion and science and questions why the two are perceived as being on opposite ends of a spectrum. It also explores the nature of complex mother-daughter relationships.

You might think that it's a lot for one book. You might also think it's bound to be gritty, or urban. It's not. It's not romanticised either. How? Well, the story is a personal, even intimate one, following Gifty as she studies neuroscience at Stanford School of Medicine, exploring the nature of reward seeking behaviour and addiction. Her wandering mind takes us through her life by the most intricate route - the writer has the most wonderful way of weaving flashbacks into the narrative, making time changes fluid and natural. Gifty's circumstances and mind are unique but her experiences are universal, poignantly expressed and deeply relatable. The book is like those renaissance pictures that you look at and appreciate in one spot but as you stand back and take time to study the whole picture, you realise just how detailed and profound it really is.

Littered throughout the story are interesting studies and theories that will inspire you to do more reading on the topics, should the themes explored interest you. Gifty's handling of taboo is made accessible to all with her curious mind - aware of all social convention and restriction - but still full of wonder anyway. For Audible, Bahni Turpin did an amazing job of capturing the purity of Gifty's mind, the innocence of her questioning that remains even after the changes she experiences growing up are revealed layer by layer.

This is not action based or gritty and dark, but it did hit hard, sneaking up on my emotions and catching me off guard. This book made me shed a tear or two in the last quarter. Easily one of the best reads of 2020 for me.

4 people found this helpful

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Didn’t enjoy

It is a nicely written book, and I like Yaa Gyasi. I feel like 90% of the plot is in the blurb and the book is quite stationery - you learn the main facts very early on and the rest is just being inside Gifty’s head. Perhaps this book would be poignant for someone with faith, or struggling with faith. As someone who firmly does not believe in god or any religion, it becomes very tedious as god features in virtually every other sentence at the second half of the book. I really struggled to get through the book, which I rarely do.

1 person found this helpful

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I needed to hear this

Sigh.... I respect Yaa so much for writing this. I respect her for being open about tough topics and for unveiling the reality behind how the church reacts to these issues.

She delves into her brother and his drug addition, her mother’s depression and her own struggle with grief.

She shares how through all of it the church turned a blind eye. A blind eye to a struggling teen, a depressed mother and a girl trying to find her way.

This book hit home! It hit home because the truth is the church today (in my experience) has not learnt how to deal with people with mental health disorders. It shuns them or uses prayer as a blanket that should fix all. The reality is... sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes people need more help.

I will talk more about this as I digest the book because it has helped me understand and sympathize so much more with those who have left the Christian faith. Left because they got more judgement than love.

Okay that’s all.... we’re giving this a 4⭐️.

It was good... I just wasn’t over the moon. The rating may change... at the moment that’s just how I feel. Yaa Gyasi is definitely becoming one of my favorite authors!

We will review this more later.

1 person found this helpful

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Best book I’ve read this year

This book is so cathartic for anyone who has struggled with their Christian faith and the church

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A personal reflection on life

This story began well and I was keen to hear how the character's life would develop but it was too long-winded towards the end and I lost interest.

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This novel is about science religion and addiction


This tells the story Gifty in flash backs and a present day narrative.


Giftý is a gifted American neauro scientist of Nigerian heritage who was bought up a fundamentalist Christian in Alabama.

This is a powerful look at how religious belief intersects with life when you choose to stick with it and when you don't.

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Religion v science and other themes

There is so much in this I need to listen again and have a library hold on the book. So many issues cleverly woven into the plot that will illuminate and educate. It should make the women’s prize shortlist. This author is very talented as evidenced by Homegoing

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Story of science, religion and grief

The book had alot of emotional depth, I could feel being inside Gifty's mind struggling with her brothers addiction..... the grief , mental illness and religion. Struggling to find meaning in what seems meaningless. Like what is the point of it all if we're just going to struggle and die. I've had this same struggle so I can relate.

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A novel about science and faith

A Ghanaian migrant family in Alabama look for redemption in God but the challenges and reality of life make tge narrator reflect on her faith.

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Beautifully performed

Loved it. And the excellent performance made it all the more encapsulating. Couldn't believe it was the same actor reading all the characters. Sad and emotional in places and hits on many themes, immigration, racism, science vs religion, addiction and ultimately is about the main characters journey through family trauma to personal acheivement. Most importantly the main character and her family feel so real and flawed and lovable.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 16-09-20

Things to note, maybe?

Love Gyasi's style of writing, the back and forth from the past to the present keeps the story engaging. The message is pertinent to society's response to depression and addiction, particularly the way families experience it internally and externally as well as from within the health sciences. I didn't anticipate as much Christian influence as there was. Compared with Home Going, which didn't really have any mention of it. Still a wonderful eye opening and deeply meaningful read.

The narrator's voice takes time to get used to. It was quite piercing on the ears initially, especially with earphones. I wouldn't eagerly listen to books read by Turpin again.

1 person found this helpful