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The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford
Literary fiction

The Many Daughters of Afong Moy

by Jamie Ford

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Quick take

Moving and kaleidoscopic, this lyrical story of inheritance explores the ties that bind us to past and future family.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Emotional

    Emotional

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NonLinear

    Nonlinear timeline

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Cerebral

    Cerebral

Synopsis

Dorothy Moy breaks her own heart for a living.

As Washington’s former poet laureate, that’s how she describes channeling her dissociative episodes and mental health struggles into her art. But when her five-year-old daughter exhibits similar behavior and begins remembering things from the lives of their ancestors, Dorothy believes the past has truly come to haunt her. Fearing that her child is predestined to endure the same debilitating depression that has marked her own life, Dorothy seeks radical help.

Through an experimental treatment designed to mitigate inherited trauma, Dorothy intimately connects with past generations of women in her family: Faye Moy, a nurse in China serving with the Flying Tigers; Zoe Moy, a student in England at a famous school with no rules; Lai King Moy, a girl quarantined in San Francisco during a plague epidemic; Greta Moy, a tech executive with a unique dating app; and Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman to set foot in America.

As painful recollections affect her present life, Dorothy discovers that trauma isn’t the only thing she’s inherited. A stranger is searching for her in each time period. A stranger who’s loved her through all of her genetic memories. Dorothy endeavors to break the cycle of pain and abandonment, to finally find peace for her daughter, and gain the love that has long been waiting, knowing she may pay the ultimate price.

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Content warning

This book contains scenes that depict sexual assault, self harm, and suicidal ideation.

Why I love it

There’s a special energy crackle that happens when you press a book into your friend’s hands and launch into a monologue about the depth of characters, the book’s complexity, the way it has reverberated through your own life. This is often true for books that defy expectations and introduce you as a reader to a totally new experience on the page.

The Many Daughters of Afong Moy is one such novel. Spanning centuries, it begins with Afong, the first Chinese woman to come to America in the 1830s, and extends all the way to the not-so-distant future of 2045, when her descendent Dorothy is experiencing inexplicable memories of a life she herself has never led. It turns out that the Moy women are linked not only through blood but through shared sensations of pain and love. Daughters is about biological inheritance, but it’s also about the individual lives of these women and the ways they are touched by art, friendship, war, and, at their core, a fierce desire to be loved and understood.

This book is simultaneously one of the saddest and most optimistic novels I’ve ever read. It’s important to remember that these two things can coexist, that most of us live in bittersweet in-between places. The Many Daughters of Afong Moy is a beautiful homage to this ache that connects us, the peace that can be found in knowing that we are never alone.

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