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The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford
Literary fiction

The Many Daughters of Afong Moy

by Jamie Ford

Excellent choice

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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.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The Many Daughters of Afong Moy.
The Many Daughters of Afong Moy

1

Faye

(1942)

Faye Moy signed a contract stating that she would never marry. That’s what the American Volunteer Group had required of all female recruits. Though as she sat in the bar of the Kunming Tennis Club, Faye thought that perhaps there should have been an exception made for older nurses. Not that she had any immediate prospects among the thirty young officers who made up the Flying Tigers. It was just that a notarized statement of marital exclusion seemed to hammer home the fact that she’d never been in love. She’d come close once, back in her village near Canton, amid the wilted lilies of her youth. Since then she’d felt many things for many people, but always more yearning than devotion, more appreciation than passion. There had even been an awkwardly arranged marriage proposal a lifetime ago, at the Tou Tou Koi restaurant, where a dashing young man got down on one knee, with a ring, and too much pomade in his hair.

Wasted. That’s what her father said when she turned him down. “Feijin? Why do you have to be this way? No one likes a stubborn girl.”

She’d tried not to roll her eyes. “Why can’t you call me Faye like everyone else?”

“Because I’m not everyone else. Look at you. You’re not getting any younger. You should be happy someone still wants you at your age.”

She’d been twenty-seven.

But as much as Faye had wanted to share her life with someone, to watch a sunset in the arms of somebody who wouldn’t leave before sunrise, even then she knew that want was not the same as need. She’d refused to settle for convenience, or to abet her aching loneliness. She went to Lingnan University instead. She told herself that if she stopped looking, eventually the right person would come along.

That was decades ago.

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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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Member ratings (5,818)

  • Mallory P.

    Alexandria, VA

    By far a book that can change your life,or at least keep you occupied in thought for the rest of the year. The premise of memory and trauma set against so many varied women’s lives. Amazing ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Rosie K.

    Madison, WI

    Wow. Kind of got this book on a whim. The concept sounded strange but intriguing. I'm so glad I picked it! Major "The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue" vibes. The ending was perfect! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Chloe A.

    Dana Point, CA

    Wow. I cannot put into words how much I love this book. It is beautifully written and has incredible characters with so much life, love, and pain. It’s heartbreakingly perfect. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Candice H.

    Grapevine, TX

    A beautiful story about trauma passed through generations. I loved how the story included both past and future generations. I also loved the “narrative therapy” (the book doesn’t call it this) aspect.

  • Angela A.

    Williamstown, MA

    Loved! I would’ve liked some happier parts, but the traumas for the time periods felt real. It felt like a novelization of the concept of “the body keeps the score” and a futuristic/neurobio solution

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