Commentary

Montana Book Review: ‘The Many Daughters of Afong Moy’

Trauma, hope and the question of what our ancestors leave us with fill Ford’s book

February 12, 2024 6:19 am

The book cover of “The Many Daughters of Afong Moy” by Jamie Ford.

This thought provoking and illuminating novel, Jamie Ford’s third, looks at the lives of several generations of women from the same family, and the effects of generational trauma upon their lives. 

It begins with a glimpse into the life and times of Faye Moy, a nurse in China, during the Japanese invasion in 1942. Then it switches viewpoints across time and space to the first Chinese woman to come to the U.S., Afong Moy, whose story showcases the deep tragedy of being ripped from your home and culture and being used as a curiosity or sideshow attraction. Afong’s other descendants that play a part in this book include Lai King Moy, a young woman living in San Francisco’s Chinatown as an outbreak of bubonic plague strikes. 

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Beginning this month, the Daily Montanan will feature one Montana-themed book or a book by a Montana author. The series is written by librarians and staff members from the Great Falls Public Library. We hope you’ll enjoy these selections. Comments or suggestions can be directed to [email protected]

Then there is Zoe Moy, a student at the famed bohemian Summerhill school in England, in 1927. Greta Moy is a coder and a developer of a revolutionary dating app, in 2014, dealing with the mainly male-driven world of technology.  Finally, the book centers on Dorothy Moy, whose portion of the story takes place in 2045. She is dealing with climate change, a failing relationship, her intense struggles with severe depression, and yearning for healing for herself and her young daughter Annabel. 

Dorothy Moy has tried an exhaustive list of medical and therapeutic treatments to cure, or at least find relief from her mental struggles.  Her latest therapist is at a loss as to what to try next, and so suggests a new and experimental therapy: Using the science of epigenetics to heal the traumas that have been inherited from generations past, altering each descendants’ genetics to carry the weight of pain, loss and tragedy. This treatment opens glimpses of Dorothy’s ancestors’ experiences and emotions, and drastically alters the course of the rest of her life. 

Each woman’s vignette has a very distinct voice, full of evocative details that breathe life into each of their characters and their place in time. This enables you to really empathize with the traumas that befall and haunt them.  From losing their families and loved ones, to loneliness, lost love, and a desire for belonging, these themes echo across each of the women’s paths.  

I loved the way both the future and the past descriptions were not bogged down with excessive detail, immediately feeling as if you could see the place and the time. I was very impressed with Ford’s ability to bring scenes and characters to life. 

The explanation of epigenetics was easy to understand and intrigued me enough to begin research of the topic on my own. Some cultures have long believed that the weight of the past travels through the generations and changes who we are. The study of epigenetics is starting to prove that this may be the case, leading to many revolutionary ways to treat illness, both physical and mental. 

Adding another layer to this complex and moving novel, there is a person who searches for the love of their life consistently across time and place, from Afong in 1836, to Dorothy more than 200 years later. This element was a pleasant surprise and it kept the book from being too sorrowful. It helped to give me hope that eventually there would be a life of happiness and contentment for a descendant of the brave and inspirational Afong Moy. 

The message the story brought to my mind, over and over throughout the book, is that we all have traumas and tragedies in our pasts. Our ancestors may have passed that down into our genetic makeup as well as our cultural or familial histories, but we must look to healing. If we can work on these generational traumas, not only may we live more enjoyable lives, but also, our future generations need not carry the negative weight into our collective futures.  

I am looking forward to reading Ford’s other works, “On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” and “Songs of Willow Frost.” 

Jamie Ford is an author from Great Falls and an active member of our local community. 

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Amanda Best
Amanda Best

Amanda Best has lived in Montana for more than 30 years and continually finds new things to love about this beautiful state. Camping and gardening are her warm weather hobbies, while knitting, board games, and quilting are her winter pursuits. She lives in a tiny house with my two precious dogs, two fluffy kitties, and one lighthearted husband.

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