"The Many Daughters of Afong Moy" | Reviewed by Pat Sainz
Jamie Ford’s most recent book, “The Many Daughters of Afong Moy,” is a novel not to be missed. Afong Moy was a real person who is considered to be the first female Chinese immigrant in the United States. She was brought to the United States in 1834 by a couple who displayed her in a traveling show where she was forced to show her bound feet, demonstrate the use of chopsticks, and sing in her Chinese language. She was viewed as an oddity and a freak. Nothing is known of her after 1850.
Ford imagines the life of Moy and her ancestors in this superbly written book. He envisions Moy being sold to her cruel owners by a hateful first wife. Ford supposes that Moy has a child. He then traces more than a century of Moy’s female descendents, seven women who endure their own trials in life.
The author’s choice to tell the story in acts, with the name of each character and dates at the heading of each chapter, enables readers to easily follow the narration. The stories of the woman are haunting, touching, and full of grace.
In telling the stories of Moy’s daughters, Ford explores a completely new term I wasn’t familiar with: epigenetics. Scientifically, epigenetics is the study of how a person’s behavior and environment can cause changes that affect how genes work outside of inherited DNA. Separated twins at birth, for example, often exhibit the same likes and dislikes. Feelings of “deja vu” fall into this category.
In “The Many Daughters of Afong Moy,” Ford supposes that each of Moy’s descendants have, in some way, inherited the trauma Moy experienced. It seems that each woman has an unsatisfactory relationship with men; each has an affinity for certain poets; each is haunted by the feeling of having experienced certain places and events from a previous time.
Ford explains epigenetics in an Author’s Note and in the Epilogue. Readers will begin thinking of their own epigenetic experiences when they are under the influence of “The Many Daughters of Afong Moy.”
Jamie Ford is the best-selling author of “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.”