From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. "China sat in the rooms of our house like a question," begins Conley in this luminous memoir of moving her family from Portland, Maine, to Beijing on the eve of the 2008 Olympics. Conley's husband had accepted a dream job in Beijing, and they had decided to say "yes to all the unknowns that will now rain down on us" including common difficulties faced by many families moving to a new city: a new school for her two young sons, finding new friends, and adjusting to a new apartment all compounded by the intensity of learning a difficult new language and adapting to a new culture. Conley's writing is at once spare and strong, and her description of having to present an unflappable front to her children while being hit "with a rolling wave of homesickness" pulls the reader into her world like a close friend. As Conley starts to hit her stride in her adopted city, she discovers lumps in her breast and finds herself on a different kind of journey, which she describes as "an essential aloneness that cancer has woven into my days." She explains in this engaging memoir that after her treatment in the U.S. was over, she returned to Beijing, where she searched for the perfect Chinese talisman to "ward off the leftover cancer juju" and hoping to help her boys move past their own fears of their mother's mortality. (Feb.)
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Conley, a writing teacher, and her husband, Tony, an IT consultant, relocate from Maine to Beijing with their two young sons. Her compelling and humorous account of the “cultural zeitgeist” in which they are suddenly immersed draws the reader in immediately. It’s a travelogue, a cultural history, and a memoir of parenting successes and disasters as she and Tony feel as though they’re running a “small overnight camp for American boys in Beijing.” As their initially reluctant sons gradually make friends, and Susan slowly learns enough Mandarin to negotiate bargaining at the market and trips with visitors to the Great Wall, their lives seem to be reaching an even keel. Then Susan discovers lumps in her left breast. The family returns for Susan’s mastectomy and follow-up radiation to Maine, where family and friends take over as surrogate moms, shuffling the boys from one activity to the next. Then they’re back in Beijing, where Susan must come to grips with not only a foreign culture but also “the haze of cancerland.” Beautifully written and insightful on many levels. --Deborah Donovan