The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford
Published by Atria Books
Publication date: August 2, 2022
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Jamie Ford’s new novel The Many Daughters of Afong Moy is a global, multigenerational novel about five women. It’s based on a true person, Afong Moy, who in 1834, was the first Chinese woman to come to America. Ford extrapolates her life into the fictional lives of five of her descendants in chapters from the 1800s to the not-so-distant future.
Moy was brought to America by merchants, as a living import from the exotic Orient, a place few Americans knew about and even fewer had visited. Initially, she was feted by celebrities and politicians alike. She even met President Andrew Jackson although she spoke no English at the time. Her traditional dress and demeanor, in addition to her bound feet, made her a source of fascination and wonder. Not to mention a source of income from paying audiences who flocked to watch her in theaters.
Moy’s life and those of her descendants Faye, Lai, Zoe, Greta, and Dorothy are told in alternating chapters. The overriding tension in The Many Daughters comes from Dorothy, a poet living in Seattle in 2045. She suffers from treatment resistant depression and, in desperation, begins working with a doctor using an experimental drug to relieve generational trauma by bringing it to the surface of the patient’s psyche in order to deal with it and break the cycle.
Despite generational trauma and its impact being very real, Dorothy is the weakest link in The Many Daughters. Her situation with her husband and mother-in-law is corrosive to a degree that strains credulity, as are her many of Dorothy’s actions. It’s manufactured to a degree that pushed me away rather than pulled me in.
Having said that, the historical characters are the novel’s strength. Faye is a nurse in China in WWII, Lai and Zoe are mother and daughter, and Greta lives in contemporary times as a computer programmer. I was intrigued by all of them, but with Dorothy on the center stage and my difficulties with her character, the novel as a whole left me cold. His style doesn’t work for me, but if you’re already a fan of Ford’s writing, you’ll love The Many Daughters of Afong Moy.
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