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The Foremost Good Fortune Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 8, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (February 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307594068
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307594068
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,712,188 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this memoir in one sitting. As someone who moved with my husband and young children to Asia, I was hooked immediately. Susan nails the incidental moments - the minutiae - that define a family's transition to a new culture. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has experienced or is anticipating an overseas move with children. However, this aspect of Susan's story only scratches the surface of what makes this book a gem. It is funny at times, poignant at others. If you have grappled with parenting decisions, wondered about the realities of day to day life in China, faced an illness of any kind, or supported someone you love through one, you will find this book hard to put down. It is enlightening, hopeful and unequivocally life affirming.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A wonderfully written account of an extraordinary experience connecting the worlds of China and Maine. The storyline does a remarkable job in weaving together the two parallel strands of a life abroad and the personal challenge of a life threatening disease. In capturing this confluence so well, I could feel ("juede") the life experience completely and also personally connect with the tales of survival. The reader can easily picture the sights, sounds and smells of Beijing ....and the overall experience that is China in transition circa 2007-2010. No other writing has captured this so well, in my estimation. This is a page turner that keeps you wanting to read more. I liked this book a LOT!
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Format: Hardcover
I had hoped to get a helpful western women's perspective on Beijing. This was pretty disappointing. I think the author needed to write this book as a cathartic exercise after a very difficult year or two. Unfortunately she did not seem to embrace the experience of being in a new culture and communicate it in a way that was at all helpful. She seemed to get lost in her own problems to the detriment of her readers. A different author, in a different place psychologically, or the same author with greater distance, could have written a very interesting and less self-absorbed book. Maybe this author can re-visit her experience at a later date.
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Format: Hardcover
Susan Conely's honest and introspective memoir Foremost Good Fortune is a gripping read involving multiple, interconnecting spheres. Covering the time surrounding the Beijing Olympics when she lived in China with her husband and young sons, it's part travelogue, part chronicle of the expat experience in one of the world's most powerful and fascinating nations, and part a record of what it feels like to leave just about everything and everyone you know to start a new life.

Most authors of books on relocating to an exotic part of the world are thrilled to be on their journey. Susan Conely is openly ambivalent and that is part of what makes this book so eye-opening and interesting. It's her husband's love of China that led the family across the world to where he had found a two year job. Her sons were resistant and unhappy at first, but then they seemed to be adjusting faster than she was. Though Conely is both accomplished and independent she did not arrive in China knowing the language and so found herself uncomfortably more dependent on her husband than she ever had been at home in Maine. Starting from scratch she began learning the language, finding friends and enjoying her life in a new and sometimes beautiful country.

Then she got cancer. That's a journey I've been on, and her description of how deeply disorienting it is, how it changes the way you think and look at the world in ways neither you or your loved ones can always anticipate were true to my experience.

A well written page turner.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If you like 1st person narrative, this may be the book for you. Plowing through the long descriptions of life in China with 2 children may prove to be a bit tedious. It is difficult to discern why she would have stayed in China through the trials of breast cancer and why the husband didn't just demand her return to the US. All in all,this book was far from a great choice for me. I read it as a book club pick, but I found it to be a trial rather than a joy.
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Format: Hardcover
The life of Beijing for a young American family who due to work circumstances, move from USA to China, and the challenges they as a family face. One big challenge that noone counted on was the author's breast cancer. The first half of the book I found very interesting and a small snapshot of life in China as an expat.

The second half of the book, the pace seemed to slow a little as Susan (author and cancer sufferer) comes to terms with her cancer, and ponders the reasons why she had it and moving on with life, knowing that it could return, and longing for the life of USA, whilst slowly embracing the Chinese way.

I became a little bored with parts of the second half - too much self reflection for my taste, though others will no doubt disagree.

Book gives a glimpse into China but ultimately I felt unsatisfied.
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Format: Paperback
I am pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed Susan Conley's 'The Foremost Good Fortune'. Reading the synopsis of this book, though I knew I wasn't in the the target audience, I couldn't help but to be intrigued. Despite a few aspects of the novel that I simply couldn't relate to (and not just about cancer), this book was an overall pleasant read. It is a haunting yet detailed story of what it takes to be a family, a person, and possibly most important of all, a survivor.

Susan and her husband Tony, as well as their sons Aiden and Thorne, move from their warm, cozy Maine home to halfway across the world to Beijing. Tony is well versed in Chinese living, but it is a completely alien nation to the sons and to Susan. The boys are enrolled in an international school, and each family member must learn to live and function in this new land, since they are to live here for two years. Aiden and Thorne begin to learn the language, and slowly but surely they begin to adapt to living here. This ties into one part of the memoir that I did not enjoy. Susan is distant and almost cold to her children because they are beginning to learn the Chinese way of life while she is struggling with her own self alienation and lack of Chinese communication skills.

Over time, Susan too begins to speak a bit of the language, and the entire family begins to make new friends from not just China but all over the world. Everything seems to be balancing out, and the family is settling in to the Asian landscape. But as the ominous, shadowy undertone that carries through the pages of this memoir, there is more drama ahead.

Susan feels two small lumps in her breast, and seeks treatment in a Beijing hospital.
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