‘Yaa Gyasi is mind-blowing at character development’: Brixton Book Group review

Throughout the pandemic, book groups across the UK and the rest of the world have continued to keep their love of literature going by meeting virtually.

We partnered with The Reading Agency to support six UK-based reading groups whose members have enjoyed finding connection through the world of books during this difficult time.

We selected Brixton Book Group as its members have been homeschooling, working as key workers, and feeling isolated during the last year. Coincidentally, the last book they read was another of our 2021 Women’s Prize shortlist, Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi! As a result, they had an opportunity to not only enjoy reading their allocated book Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, but they were also able to compare it to another one of the shortlisted novels. 

Everyone in the book group enjoyed Transcendent Kingdom to different degrees. Overall, they liked the characters and themes covered, such as religion and the experience of being an immigrant. However, the ending fuelled debate over whether it was a little too neat or whether this was another one of the book’s strengths, as elsewhere it is incredibly complex and nuanced. Read on to read extracts of the group’s reviews:

 ‘I really enjoyed this novel. I was quite quickly drawn into the character’s stories. I thought Gyasi described the nuances of the often-complicated family relationships very well. She skilfully tackles some difficult issues including addiction, family relationships, and struggles with faith/religion.’

 ‘I was very moved by Transcendent Kingdom. The pain and suffering endured by Gifty’s mother whilst she tries to build a better life for her children is heart-breaking. I haven’t felt so much for a character in a long time. Gyasi had me invested in every character from the very beginning. However, I found it a little hard to keep the momentum going at times with such short chapters. Despite this, I thought Gifty’s medical research was the perfect medium for her to process everything that had happened to her family, and it was a visceral, moving portrayal of the US opioid epidemic.’

Transcendent Kingdom was a compelling story that kept me gripped up until the end. I found Gifty’s relationship with her mother and the impact religion had on the two of them and their relationship particularly fascinating. Unfortunately, I found the ending a bit jarring, as if it were an attempt to tie everything off when the novel would have benefitted with a bit more ambiguity. I am looking forward to reading more of Yaa Gyasi’s work in the future.’

We hope you found the Brixton Book Group’s reviews of Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom insightful! You can pick up a copy of Transcendent Kingdom as well as the other five shortlisted books from bookshop.org here >

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