30 May / The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford [in Booklist]
Jamie Ford (Love and Other Consolation Prizes, 2017) showcases “transgenerational epigenetic inheritance” – inheriting trauma through generations – in another multi-temporal narrative spanning two-and-a-half centuries across the globe. Ford deftly reveals seven women’s lives, beginning with progenitor Afong, “the first Chinese woman to set foot on American soil.” The name and epithet are actual history, which Ford embellishes with a poignant past and intriguing descendants.
Child bride to a dead man, Afong is banished to the New World, where she disappears in 1836. Her legacy continues through Lai King, returned alone to China in 1892 to save her from certain plague death in San Francisco; nurse Faye in Kunming, who saves an American pilot in 1942; student Zoe at a progressive British school in 1927; feminist dating-app creator Greta in 2014. In 2045, battling personal crises, poet Dorothy becomes their epigenetic connector; by 2086, daughter Annabel will be the beneficiary of Dorothy’s transformative quest.
While loneliness, suffering, and violence haunt throughout, Ford’s revisionist penultimate chapter, “Echoes,” feels less empowering than uncomfortably forced. That said, Ford fans are unlikely to be disappointed, his writing remains reliably immersive and enlightening.