In late 2020, I read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. It was part of a book club I was in, and all of us loved the novel. So I was excited to learn of his newest novel, The Many Daughters of Afong Moy, and even more thrilled when I was approved of an ARC of it from NetGalley. I’ve been sitting on this review for a long time now – I read the book way back in January – but I’m looking forward to its imminent release. The Many Daughters of Afong Moy will be out next Tuesday, August 2nd, and this is one everyone should read as soon as possible: It’s one of the most impressive and inspired books I have ever read. I can’t praise it highly enough, but I’ll do my best in my review below.
Special thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!
The Many Daughters of Afong Moy follows multiple generations of women, from the 1830s into the middle of the 21st century. First is the titular Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman to live in the United States. After becoming a ghost bride in China, she’s sent to America, where she falls into a difficult life as a novelty in a circus. In the 1890s, we meet Lai King Moy, a young girl whose family is ripped apart by a pandemic that strikes her home in San Francisco. In the 1920s, Zoe Moy is a teenaged student at a famously democratic school in England. Faye Moy is a nurse in China in the 1940s, haunted by the death of a patient and an inexplicable note he held with him. In 2014, Greta Moy is launching a successful dating app but facing her own romantic and professional entanglements.
Tying it all together is Dorothy Moy in Seattle in 2045. Her whole life, she has suffered from depression, but now she’s having dissociative episodes. She’s lost her job and she may be a danger to her five-year-old daughter. Desperate for a solution, Dorothy seeks out experimental treatment related to epigenetics and inherited trauma. Through her treatments, Dorothy connects with her ancestors and the traumas they faced in their lifetimes – traumas that have impacted Dorothy’s mental health and maybe that of her daughter. Can she unravel the past in order to heal her present?
The Many Daughters of Afong Moy is a complex, multi-layered, stunning novel. In some ways it plays out like a collection of short stories, yet they’re all intimately connected. There are six POV characters with whom to get familiar, but while multiple introductions can slow a book down, that is not a problem here. Jamie Ford writes in such a way that each character instantly feels relatable and important. Their stories are each distinct and nuanced, holding the reader’s attention across times and settings. Each character’s arc is equally engaging and thought-provoking.
It is clear that author did a ton of research on this book. With each of the six settings, he draws on real events, places, or people. Afong Moy truly was the first Chinese American woman; there really was a pandemic in late-1800s San Francisco. Even the dating app that Greta develops in 2014 is based on a real startup that has, sadly, not been able to develop as fully as in this novel. Jamie Ford also researched the effects climate change is likely to have in two decades’ time, specifically in the Pacific Northwest.
Perhaps most fascinating in The Many Daughters of Afong Moy is the concept of epigenetics. This is actually a real field of study, one that I personally plan to read more about. Jamie Ford cites evidence of inherited trauma, and this is what forms the core of this novel. Indeed, each of the Moy women face some kind of trauma in their lives, from sexual harassment or rape to death of loved ones to being locked in an asylum simply for living your truth. (These are just some of the content warnings to consider before reading this novel.)
But as each woman goes through unique hardships, how do those experiences get passed on to the next generation? How might Dorothy’s mental health be a result of the horrors her ancestors faced? Moreover, how can she break the cycle?
The Many Daughters of Afong Moy is often heart-wrenching, and each character suffers to some degree. However, the entire ending sequence filled my soul with happiness. I won’t say why, but it made my already 5-star book into something off the charts.
This book blends genres, like sci-fi, magical realism, literary fiction, and historical fiction. It opens pathways to numerous events and topics worth reading about further, whether you want to learn more about Afong Moy or epigenetics or that experimental school in England. Ultimately, it reminds readers to learn your family history, tell family members you love them, and consider how you can make positive change for your future.
The Many Daughters of Afong Moy is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It captures so many different themes, types of characters, and genres, and yet it never feels disconnected or incomplete. Rather, it all adds up to a novel that is powerful, thought-provoking, and multi-layered. Despite hardships the characters face, the ending brought tears of joy to my eyes. This is a masterful novel that I will probably gift to everyone I know.
|The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford|
|Genre||Historical Fiction; Literary Fiction; Speculative Fiction|
|Setting||United States; China; England|
|Number of Pages||384|
|Format I Read||eBook (NetGalley)|
|Original Publication Date||August 2, 2022|
The New York Times bestselling author of the “mesmerizing and evocative” (Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants) Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet returns with a powerful exploration of the love that binds one family across the generations.
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.
About the Author
Jamie Ford’s debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list and went on to win the 2010 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. Jamie’s work has been published in 34 languages. Also, because Jamie feels weird writing about himself in the 3rd person, he’s going to say…
Hi, this is me.
Not a publicist. Not some weird aggregated bit of web-content, just little ol’ me, the author, sitting here in my favorite Batman pajamas (yes, I have several pairs) writing this note in my cozy home office, dog at my feet. Her name is Lucy and she’s twitching right now, obviously chasing squirrels in her dreams.
While we’re chatting, I should mention that my latest novel novel, The Many Daughters of Afong Moy, is now available for pre-order 🙂
If you’re looking for more things that have spilled out of my brain, I have steampunk storiess in The End is Nigh, The End is Now, and The End Has Come (The Apocalypse Triptych). Also a tale in Stories from Suffragette City.
Lest I forget, I have a story in Anonymous Sex, which will be published next February. But I’m not allowed to say which story is mine.
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