Jenna Bush Hager said “The Many Daughters of Afong Moy,” her August Read With Jenna pick, “astounded” her. Jamie Ford’s sweeping novel spans 250 years within the same family tree, all tracing back to Afong Moy, considered to be the first Chinese woman in the United States. Through the novel, we see how Afong’s experiences with both love and abandonment reverberate throughout the generations — and perhaps echo in their DNA.
Ford had to channel his inner poet for the book, which features the poet laureate of Washington as a main character. Speaking to TODAY, Ford said he read the work of poet Andrea Gibson to inspire the portions of the book about Dorothy Moy. “If you just want to be blown away, just go to YouTube, and just type in Andrea Gibson, and listen and watch some of their performances,” Ford said.
While there’s no book quite like this “epigenetic love story,” as Ford describes it, the author recommended six books that are in conversation with his epic novel.
Here are six books to read after “The Many Daughters of Afong Moy,” which also has a bibliography at the end for your literary perusal.
Ford considers Andrea Gibson one of his favorite poets. Gibson is an author of five collected books of poetry, and is known for their rousing recitations of poetry (listen and get the chills). "When I’m feeling lost, I turn to Andrea Gibson. I also turn to their poems when I’m feeling hopeful, joyful, when I’m celebrating, when I’m nervous, when I feel unseen, and sometimes when I just need to feel alive," Ford told TODAY.
"The Many Daughters of Afong Moy" studies, through fiction, how inherited trauma manifests itself over the generations. "What My Bones Know" takes a nonfiction approach, as author Stephanie Foo grapples with her childhood. Both of her parents abandoned her as an adolescent. While she thrived professionally, Foo's pain created a shaky foundation. "As agonizing as it is hopeful, this deep dive into complex PTSDs and generational trauma is the rare memoir that left me with a larger understanding of myself," Ford said.
Buddhism is a major theme in "The Many Daughters of Afong Moy," with one of the book's most pivotal scenes taking place in a monastery. For those looking to know more about the religion, Ford recommends this collection of digestible Buddhist teachings. The book is designed to be read in any order; think of it as a thought exercise rather than a conventional read.
"The Dalai Lama said, 'Don't try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are.' This book made me a better something, what that something is, I’m still working on it. Stay tuned," Ford said.
After being diagnosed with amnesia, Lucie Walker can't remember a thing about her past. The more she learns, the more she dislikes the person she used to be. Ford called this a "beautiful novel about what the mind forgets and what the heart remembers," saying it's "a story of memories as shadows, elongated and distorted by time, until they eclipse cherished loves, familial connections, and painful truths."
"Perma Red" is written by Earling, a member of the Salish and Kootenai tribes of the Flathead reservation, and follows a young woman's life on and off a reservation in the '40s. Ford said the book is "transcendent, powerful, and has a gravity all its own" and "belongs in college classrooms as well as book clubs."
"Take My Hand" is liable to open your eyes. Based on true events, the novel follows a 23-year-old nurse, Civil Townsend, working in Alabama in the age of Jim Crow. She awakens to a terrible wrong that is being done to other Black people, and raises the alarm. "This powerful novel finds the humanity in one of the most inhumane chapters of American history. 'Take My Hand' will enrage you. It will illuminate you. It just might redeem you," Ford said.