Book Review: The Many Daughters of Afong Moy

We meet many woman in Jamie Ford’s novel, which spans 250 years. The lineage begins with Afong Moy, believed to be the first Chinese woman in the United States, paraded around as a side show act. We then meet Faye, a wartime nurse in China, and Zoe, a student at an ultra-progressive English boarding school. There’s Lai King, a young girl escaping a plague in San Francisco, Greta, the creator of a popular dating app, and Dorothy, a poet whose mental health has reached a breaking point. She doesn’t realize it, but Dorothy is bearing the pain of all the Moy women who have come before her. When she realizes she may lose her daughter if she can’t regain control, she embarks on an experimental treatment that connects her to the previous generations of women in her family. If she can confront the traumas, she may be able to reduce their impact.

This story is an epic combined with epigenetics, which is the scientific idea that trauma can actually alter genes as they are passed down through the generations – quite the concept. The timelines jump back and forth and it can be difficult to follow how each of the women are connected, but I enjoyed the individual storylines and the selflessness that characterized each and every woman. While it’s disheartening that no matter the year, even the most secure, intelligent women are at the mercy of men, we are left with hope that we can affect change for future generations of women who may be empowered to have agency over their careers, love lives, and bodies.

4 out of 5 stars

Pair with: A dark and stormy