book review

Review: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Transcendent Kingdom

Publisher: Viking Books UK

Pub date: 4 March 2021

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Late to the party, I only read Homegoing this January and it was my favourite book of that month – and I said at the time that I could well see it being my favourite book of the year. Though I had high hopes for Yaa Gyasi’s second novel, Transcendent Kingdom, I did not necessarily expect to love it as much as I did.

Transcendent Kingdom follows Gifty as she struggles with the aftermath of the death of her brother and her mother’s depression. Even her PhD studies are centred around her family’s tragedies: her brother died from an overdose, and Gifty is studying reward-seeking behaviour in mice and how this connects to addiction and depression.

This novel is an intimate and intense examination of one family. It is beautifully written – sharp, vivid, concise. I don’t know how pack so many poignant themes and give characters such life in such a way. I admire Gyasi’s writing so much because her characters are so nuanced and so real. Her writing feels almost stripped back to me – concise is probably the wrong word to use, but it’s not a particularly long book, the chapters are quite short and the author jumps between the present and the past. In this way, she gives us snippets of a life that feels incredibly real. I saw someone else say that she is an author who says as much in her words as she does in the spaces that she leaves, and this feels very true to me.

Ultimately, this novel is about grief and a search for meaning, and within it, it explores poverty, depression, racism and the experience of immigrants in America. I can’t really explain how or why this novel touched me so deeply, but it left me wanting to read more. I 100% recommend this book to you – I adored it, and I hope you do too!

to-read

Bedside books: March tbr

So what books are on my bedside, waiting to be read this month?

I’m hoping to make a dent in my physical tbr, and I also have a couple of ARCs I need to read and review. I always like to set myself a smaller tbr than what I’ve managed to read the previous month, as it means there is still room for mood reading and picking up books on a whim! As always, I’m not going to stick religiously to this, but I did pretty well at sticking to my tbr last month, so hopefully March will be the same.

Physical tbr:

  • The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai: I’ve heard nothing by phenomenal things about this one, so I’m very excited! It’s been compared to Homegoing and Pachinko (both of which I thought were excellent) in it’s epic, multigenerational structure – but The Mountains Sing tells the story of the Tran family in Vietnam. Hopefully this lives up to all of the things I’ve heard about it.
  • Luster by Raven Leilani: I’ve been hearing increasingly mixed reviews of this one lately, but I’ve been interested in Luster since I first heard about it last Autumn. Luster follows a young black woman who is figuring out her life. She starts seeing a man who is in an open marriage, and I believe she becomes increasingly involved in his life, in a way that is supposed to be quite uncomfortable to read about? It’s hard to summarise books you haven’t read!
  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters: While the previous two are relatively new releases, The Little Stranger was published in 2009. It is, I believe, a historical fiction with a horror/mystery/supernatural element, set in Warwickshire in the 1940s. Sarah Waters is such a well-loved author, and this will be my first book of hers – I’m very excited to see what happens!
  • The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale: This is my non-fiction book this month. It’s a true crime novel about a 13-year-old boy who is convicted of killing his mother in Victorian London. It’s another by Kate Summerscale, whose non-fiction I’ve really admired, and I’m excited to see what this one is like!

ARCs:

Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Transcendent Kingdom
  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi: I’m currently reading this book. It’s Gyasi’s second book, and it is incredibly different to Homegoing. Set in America, it follows Gifty, who was born in Alabama but whose parents were from Ghana. It’s told in first person and it jumps around in time, telling the story of present-day Gifty and her life growing up. Gyasi has such an engaging narrative voice, I’m really enjoying it so far! The publication date in the UK is 4 March – I’m hoping to finish it tonight and post a review tomorrow (don’t hold me to that!).

I’m really excited to read all of these books (and hopefully a few more if there’s time!) – I think it’s going to be a month of some very good books.

What’s your most anticipated book on your March tbr? And have you read any of these books? What did you think?

book review

Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Homegoing is an absolute masterpiece of a novel, and I’ve been putting off writing my review as I didn’t know how to do it justice.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi | Waterstones

This is an ambitious generational novel, starting with the stories of Effia and Esi, half-sisters on the Gold Coast of West Africa (now Ghana) who have never met. They suffer very different fates. Effia marries a white man from Cape Coast Castle, who is involved in the slave trade. She is from Fanteland, and some of the Fantes aligned with the white men, acting as middlemen to the slave trade, capturing other Africans and selling them.

Esi, an Asante, is one of the African women who is held at Cape Coast Castle in horrendous conditions, before being transported on a slave ship to America.

From here, each chapter is dedicated to their descendants, showing us snippets of their lives. Effia’s family stays on the Gold Coast, while Esi’s descendants are slaves in America. Both families have their hardships and their joys, and both are irreversibly changed by the decisions of their ancestors and by the actions of white men.

I cannot fully express the humanity that runs through this novel. Though each character only gets a chapter, Yaa Gyasi packs an entire lifetime into it. By the end of each chapter, you love and feel for each character as though you have read an entire book dedicated to them. This ability to so concisely portray an entire life in so few words really reminds of Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other.

Gyasi’s book does the incredibly important and needed job of giving a human face to the dehumanising slave trade. She shows you the devastating personal cost, the ramifications that run through both Effia and Esi’s descendants – still there years after Black people win their freedom in America. It’s very easy for a white person to not truly engage in the human cost of the slave trade – it’s very easy for us to make the victims vague, faceless and nameless, in order to assuage white guilt. By writing this story, Gyasi hits home that every person who was a victim of the slave trade – both directly and indirectly – was a living, breathing, thinking, feeling person. This is obviously and absolutely a basic thing, but I think history often forgets the individual. Gyasi makes you feel the loss of each person’s life, the way their humanity was stripped from them, individually.

This novel has a sense of urgency and relevancy to it, and I think you find it most in H’s story. H is a Black man, previously a slave, who was freed when slavery became illegal in America. Instead of living a free life, though, he is arrested for a small offense and sentenced to 10 years working in the mines. One of the characters in the story remarks ‘War might be over but it ain’t ended’; H thinks about how happy he was to be free, and how that didn’t last long. Racism may take different form nowadays to how it was 50 years ago, 100 years ago, 150 years ago, but the effects of slavery are still here and so is white supremacy. We still have a long way to go.

The true tragedy of the novel, in my opinion, is that we as observers know more about each character’s past and future than they ever do. Each character is disconnected from their history, their parents, and often from their children. This is an effect of slavery – a disconnection from their roots. Amazingly, for such a brutal subject, Yaa Gyasi still injects hope into the novel – especially in the ending. This is symbolised most by a black stone, originally owned by Effia, which has been passed down through the generations – and is still owned by the final character. Despite the uprooting of their family, and all of the terrible things that have happened in between, this character still retains that connection to the past.

Finally, I would like to say that as well as being an incredibly important novel, Gyasi’s writing is absolutely beautiful and I don’t want that to be lost in everything else that I had to say! This is a truly remarkable debut, and it’s astounding that she manages to pack in so much depth into each character. I especially enjoyed the chapters set in Africa, as I thought she described the setting with such a richness that it felt vivid to me. I really slowed down my reading speed for this book, in order to truly savour every part of it.

This is an evocative, emotional and remarkable book – I absolutely recommend it as a must-read to everyone (though I know I am late to the party on this one)!

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book meme

WWW Wednesday | 13 Jan

Hi everyone! I’m back with another WWW Wednesday, hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

The three Ws to be answered are:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

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I have literally just picked up Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall, which I’m very excited to get into. Hood Feminism looks at the women that women that the feminist movement forgot, making the point that while privileged (white) women often focus their feminism on gaining more privilege, they forget and leave behind the women that are struggling to survive – through lack of education, medical care, living wages, safe neighbourhoods etc. The book takes the form short essays covering all of these topics (and ones I haven’t mentioned), and I’m really excited to get into it properly!

What did you recently finish reading?

The last week has been a great reading week for me, so I’ve got quite a few to mention (lockdown 3 has definitely helped here!). I haven’t written reviews for these yet, but they are all coming!

  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – This was a five star read for me – I found it absolutely phenomenal, so vivid and vibrant and full of humanity. I found myself slowing my reading down to truly savour the experience, as I was enjoying it so much. There’s so much to unpack and discuss about this book that I’m looking forward to sitting down and properly writing my review on it!
  • White Ivy by Susie Yang – Another very accomplished debut! I’m still a bit undecided about my rating for it, but it will probably fall somewhere in the 4 to 5 star range. I’m still thinking about this book days after I finished it, and it’s another I’m looking forward to writing the review on.
  • Unsettled Ground by Clare Fuller (eARC, NetGalley) – I was on such a run of good books for the year, and unfortunately this book really let me down. I found it overly bleak and quite…boring? I never really felt invested in it and I left the book feeling a bit like I wasted my time, which is not what you want to feel after finishing a book!
  • Confessions of a Curious Bookseller by Elizabeth Green (eARC, NetGalley) – this was actually a dnf for me. I feel bad about putting books down unfinished, especially when I’ve been sent them for review, but I just couldn’t continue with this one. Written in the form of epistolary, combining emails, letters and diary entries, I was expecting to really like this one, having been such a big fan of Meg Cabot’s Boy series (heartily recommend if you love rom coms), which follows this structure. But this book was not fun, the character was rude and unlikeable, and 25% of the way in, there was no plot – just the main character emailing back and forth with plumbers and catering companies.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Ooh, this is a tough one! I’ve recently gone on a bit of a book-buying frenzy, with some Christmas money and also just because there’s nothing else really to do during lockdown – so I have a lot of good ones to choose from! I think I’ve narrowed by choice for the next read down to a couple though!

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I have the eARC of Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson to read by 4th February, which I’m very excited about as I’ve seen amazing reviews. I also want to read The Magpie Society by Zoe Sugg and Amy McCulloch, as I bought this Nov/Dec time and had planned to read it by the end of the year. Another book high up on my to-read list is The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré, which I bought on Kindle (for 99p, bargain!) after hearing rave reviews and seeing people mark it as their fave book of 2020.

What are you currently reading? How are you finding it?