The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford

In the 1830’s, Afong Moy was the first Chinese woman to set foot on American soil. She made money as a curiosity, exhibited like a carnival attraction, and at some point seemed to disappear from historical records. In this book, Jamie Ford takes this historical figure as his starting point and mixes in the notion of epigenetics or inherited trauma. We are taken through the lives of Afong and her female descendants through history, all of whom have relentlessly dark stories, until a woman in the near future, named Dorothy, heals herself using an up to the minute genetic therapy which allows her to disinherit her inherited trauma and heal the past of all her ancestors.

From the author of The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

I did not enjoy this book at all. The way it jumps around meant that I never really attached to any of the characters. It annoyed me that Dorothy was in a relationship with a narcissist. (It feels like there has to be one of those in every book lately) None of the women felt real to me because they were all victims of fate, and their fate was relentlessly bad. It felt melodramatic. Especially since none of them were ordinary. The heroic nurse, the app developer who just happens to make millions, the poet who can actually make money writing poetry. No one is just a barista or a shop owner. It reminds me of the way that certain types of people who believe in past lives will be sure that they were Cleopatra or a viking warrior, or someone important. No one imagines that they may have been just a grunt or a servant who died young of the diseases who carried people off all the time in the past.

The other part that I found insufferable was the authors interpretation of epigenetics. For a start, it feels like it’s lifted right out of the popular game series Assassins Creed, which feels a bit cheeky. Secondly, epigenetics and inherited trauma is not “fate” or like past lives or memories. It felt a little negative to interpret it this way and feels like a missed trick when the way it really works is very interesting.

I couldn’t help but think when I was reading this book, about the fact that humans are all pretty closely related. All Europeans, for example, share a common ancestor just 1000 years ago. If things worked the way this book says, then we all would have inherited the same trauma and same memories. But, of course, it’s just a fiction, and you’re just meant to take it on surface value. The problem is, this is the kind of thing I was thinking about while reading because this book just didn’t keep me invested.

Anyway, this one was a pass for me.

Read It If: skip this one and go play Assassin’s Creed instead.

Thank you to the publisher for the ARC of this book for review.

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