Book excerpt: "Transcendent Kingdom" by Yaa Gyasi

In "Transcendent Kingdom" (Knopf), the new novel by Yaa Gyasi ("Homecoming"), the author writes of Ghanaian immigrants in Alabama, who search for the answers to their family's suffering by turning to science and to faith.

Read an excerpt from "Transcendent Kingdom":


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Knopf

When I was a child I thought I would be a dancer or a worship leader at a Pentecostal church, a preacher's wife or a glamorous actress. In high school my grades were so good that the world seemed to whittle this decision down for me: doctor. An immigrant cliché, except I lacked the overbearing parents. My mother didn't care what I did and wouldn't have forced me into anything. I suspect she would be prouder today if I'd ended up behind the pulpit of the First Assemblies of God, meekly singing number 162 out of the hymnal while the congregation stuttered along. Everyone at that church had a horrible voice. When I was old enough to go to "big church," as the kids in the children's service called it, I dreaded hearing the worship leader's warbling soprano every Sunday morning. It scared me in a familiar way. Like when I was five and Nana was eleven, and we found a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest. Nana scooped it into his big palms, and the two of us ran home. The house was empty. The house was always empty, but we knew we needed to act fast, because if our mother came home to find the bird, she'd kill it outright or take it away and drop it in some small stretch of wilderness, leaving it to die. She'd tell us exactly what she'd done too. She was never the kind of parent who lied to make her children feel better. I'd spent my whole childhood slipping teeth under my pillow at night and finding teeth there in the morning. Nana left the bird with me while he poured a bowl of milk for it. When I held it in my hands, I felt its fear, the unending shiver of its little round body, and I started crying. Nana put its beak to the bowl and tried to urge it to drink, but it wouldn't, and the shiver that was in the bird moved in me. That's what the worship leader's voice sounded like to me – the shaky body of a bird in distress, a child who'd grown suddenly afraid. I checked that career off my list right away. 

Excerpt from "Transcendent Kingdom" by Yaa Gyasi. Copyright © 2020 by YNG Books, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House. All rights reserved.

       
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