Transcendent Kingdom


Yaa Gyasi

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on Transcendent Kingdom makes teaching easy.

Transcendent Kingdom Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Yaa Gyasi's Transcendent Kingdom. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Yaa Gyasi

Yaa Gyasi was born in 1989 in Mampong, Ghana. When she was two years old, her family moved to the United States, where her father earned his Ph.D. She spent her early years in Ohio and Tennessee, but by the time Gyasi was 10, her father was teaching at the University of Alabama. She spent most of her childhood in Huntsville, Alabama. Gyasi loved reading and writing from an early age and has said that her desire to become a writer was crystallized after she first read Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. Gyasi was educated at Stanford and the Iowa Writers Workshop, and she released her first novel, Homegoing, to great acclaim in 2016.
Get the entire Transcendent Kingdom LitChart as a printable PDF.
Transcendent Kingdom PDF

Historical Context of Transcendent Kingdom

In Transcendent Kingdom, Gifty’s brother Nana dies of an accidental heroin overdose, after becoming addicted to opioids prescribed to him for a sports injury. He is thus an early victim of the opioid epidemic. Prior to the introduction of OxyContin in the 1990s by the Sacker Family’s Purdue Pharma company, opioids—powerful and powerfully addictive drugs—had been primarily used for acute cancer pain and end-of-life care. The introduction and marketing of OxyContin, a supposedly “safe” opioid, generated an epidemic of addiction in the United States, as doctors prescribed opioids for relatively minor injuries and post-surgical care and their patients became addicted. In many ways, then, Nana’s story is typical of the opioid epidemic: prescribed drugs for an injury and unable to continue getting them through his doctor, he eventually turns to heroin as a less-expensive substitute. But, because the family is Black, Gifty ends up being  exposed to her church’s racism, which points to another historical epidemic related to addiction: the so-called “War on Drugs.” Drug use was increasingly criminalized in the 1980s in the United States. Sentencing disparities for different drugs or drug forms, notably much harsher sentences for crack cocaine than powdered cocaine, led to much higher incarceration rates among Black Americans and contributed to stereotypes that Black people are more prone to addiction. Gyasi’s works have also been published against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, the ongoing deaths of Black people at the hands of the police, and the “America-First” movement that characterized the presidency of Donald Trump and sought to drastically reduce immigration, especially from African countries.

Other Books Related to Transcendent Kingdom

Transcendent Kingdom begins with two epigraphs, one of which is from contemporary poet Sharon Olds’ poem, “The Borders.” It describes, from a mother’s point of view, the complicated and intertwined relationship between herself and her daughter. The second epigraph comes from Victorian poet Gerard Manly Hopkins’s poem “The Grandeur of God.” Because Gifty’s individuation from her mother is tied up in her struggle between faith and science, Transcendent Kingdom also recalls Father and Son, a memoir written by poet and literary critic Edmund Gosse in 1907. On the scientific side, Gifty frequently uses scientific studies to help her understand the world and her experience. Of these, perhaps the most important is Margaret Mahler’s The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant: Symbiosis and Individuation. On the religious side, the most important related works are the Gospels from the Christian Bible. These four books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) tell the story of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection from four different perspectives. The Gospel of John, which begins with a meditation on the idea of logos, which can be translated as “word,” “discourse,” or “reason,” and is the only gospel to contain the story of Lazarus, which is particularly compelling to Gifty. Finally, as a story about an immigrant family from Ghana and as the story of a Black family in the American south, Transcendent Kingdom ties into the traditions of immigrant stories and contemporary literature by BIPOC authors. Gifty’s mother defies the “typical” immigrant pressure to achieve upward mobility as portrayed in works such as Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. And, in reckoning with the experience of institutionalized racism in America, Transcendent Kingdom is a fictional counterpoint to memoirs such as Brittany Cooper’s Eloquent Rage and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me.
Key Facts about Transcendent Kingdom
  • Full Title: Transcendent Kingdom
  • When Written: 2018–2020
  • Where Written: United States
  • When Published: 2021
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Setting: Stanford, California in the present; Huntsville, Alabama 15-25 years ago
  • Climax: Gifty’s mother escapes the apartment, and Gifty asks for help finding her.
  • Antagonist: Addiction and depression
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for Transcendent Kingdom

Butterfly in the Sky. As a child, Gyasi sent a story into Reading Rainbow’s Young Authors and Illustrators Contest, winning a certificate signed by star LeVar Burton.

Show Me the Money. Gyasi reportedly received an advance of more than $1 million for her first book, Homegoing, in 2015. She had cold emailed the draft to a  literary agent she admired, who took her on immediately as a client.