The Many Daughters of Afong Moy Book Club Questions & Discussion Guide

The Many Daughters of Afong Moy will give your group boundless things to discuss. This multi-layered story is told in alternating timelines. This multigenerational novel follows six generations of women, from the 1800s to the 21st century, starting with Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman to come to America, and her five descendants. This book blends genres like speculative fiction, magical realism, and historical fiction into one novel. The book’s key themes are generational trauma and epigenetic inheritances.

Your group will be immersed back in the story as you follow along The Many Daughters of Afong Moy book club questions and discussion guide laid out for you. This discussion guide features a book synopsis, some selected reviews, and at the very end we included three books similar to The Many Daughters of Afong Moy if you want to continue exploring.

The Many Daughters of Afong Moy book club questions, with book cover.

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The Many Daughters of Afong Moy Synopsis

(We always chose to provide the publisher synopsis because we feel that it’s worthwhile to discuss whether the official book description actually squared with your experience of the book.)

The Many Daughters of Afong Moy, Jamie Ford

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 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 the 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. Can Dorothy break the cycle of pain and abandonment to finally find peace for her daughter and love for herself? Or will she end up paying the ultimate price?

The Many Daughters of Afong Moy Book Club Questions

  1. Many of the female characters in this novel have very little control over their lives. What things have changed since the time of Afong Moy in the 1800s?
  1. What positive traits and strengths are passed down from Moy to Moy? What role do these play in the novel?
  1. In the beginning chapter, Faye reads an Edgar Allan Poe poem called Annabel Lee, “But we loved with a love that was more than love.” Most of the characters appear to be driven by love, how does that affect their decisions and outcomes?
  2. What are the patterns of generational trauma displayed in this novel? How do circumstances and choice change from generation to generation?
  1. Do all of the characters stand up to racist violence? If not, how else do they respond? Does the author put the responsibility for change on the shoulders of the perpetrators or the survivors?
  1. “Dorothy remembered an old line of poetry from Rupi Kaur: If people were rain, men would be drizzle, and women a hurricane.” What do you think the poet meant by that? What did it represent in the story?
  1. The author makes several allusions to “Annabel Lee” and poetry in general. How do these recurring allusions affect our understanding of the story? How does he use them to create patterns across generations?
  1. The characters in this book are all so dynamic and complex. Was there a character that you related to the most? Why?
  1. The theme of fate versus choice runs throughout this novel. There are many moments where a different choice made by a character might have led to a better outcome. What stopped them from making a better choice?
  1.  “The light went out of his eyes as he exhaled, a long, slow hiss, but his face remained stuck in that hideous smile, a rictus of contempt.” Were you shocked when Afong stabbed Nanchoy, or did you see Afong’s violence as a response to the violence she has faced since coming to America?

Selected Reviews of The Many Daughters of Afong Moy

(Use these selected Goodreads reviews to compare with your own experience of the book. Do you agree or disagree with the reviews?)

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was a favorite of mine, so I was looking forward to reading the author’s newest book […] We meet women from the 19th and 20th centuries, and some from the future. I found the stories disjointed, as the narrative jumped from one woman’s story to another just as I felt I was getting to “know” them.”

“I loved this book–the wonderful female characters, the fast pace, but most of all Jamie Ford’s lovely and often heartbreaking take on life. The way he brings us Afong Moy, as just one example, a woman taken from China and brought to America in the 1830s and cruelly displayed onstage as an oddity, is just brilliant and heartbreaking. He gives us such poignant insights into all the Moy women and still serves it up with his trademark wry sense of humor.”

“While reading this book, I kept having visions of those old silent movies with a young woman tied to the railroad tracks wildly gesticulating in fear and mustachioed villains grinning maniacally. In The Many Daughters of Afong Moy, the characters were that … caricatured, to wit, all heterosexual men are rapists (save a couple Ken doll cameos) and all women are virtuous, helpless maidens or spinsters. Rather than uplifting, the tale came off as patronizing and pandering…”

“This is a tough book to review. A mix of historical fiction, science fiction, and pure imagination, it was confusing at times as it moved back and forth in time, but once I decided to suspend disbelief and just go with the flow, it proved to be a fascinating thought experiment. There were many sad examples of oppression and abuse suffered by each of the female characters, but also redemption in the final events of the story. The novel’s central concept of inherited trauma is an interesting one to explore.”

NEED BOOK CLUB IDEAS?

Use our guide to find dozens of book ideas for your group.

Books Similar to The Many Daughters of Afong Moy

Afong Moy was a pic for Jenna Bush Hagar’s Today Show book club. If you like their selections, we have the complete list of Jenna’s book club pics, with a synopsis and rating for each.

If you’re club is keen to read more books featuring Chinese or Chinese-American characters try our Pachinko book club guide, Our Missing Hearts book guide, or Crazy Rich Asians book club guide. And for another multi-gen story that deals with trauma, try Weyward.

Each of the links go to articles which offer a synopsis for the book.

What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma, Stephanie Foo

In Foo’s bold and intimate memoir, she investigates how trauma that can be inherited through generations. She investigates the science behind her complex PTSD, sharing her own journey, the healing process, and how she overcame it.


Love Water Memory, Jennie Shortridge

Inspired by a true story, this novel is about a woman named Lucie, with a rare form of amnesia caused by emotional trauma. As she finds the courage to search for answers, and retrieve the long-repressed childhood memories that will set her free from this state that she is in. An engaging story about exploring identity and how the past impacts our present state.


The Fortunes of Jaded Women, Carolyn Huynh

A fantasy fiction about a Vietnamese woman named Oanh, who dared to leave her marriage for her true love. A witch then decides to curse Oanh’s descendants so that they can never find love or happiness. This multi-narrative novel is themed with; grieving, meddling, celebrating, and healing together as a family.

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