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When Susan Conley moves with her family to Beijing, she can’t imagine how much their lives will change. While Tony, her husband, is consumed with his job, Susan confronts a host of perplexing firsts: determining the proper way to shop at a Chinese megamarket, bribing her two young sons to ride the school bus, and getting stuck in a highrise elevator, unable to call for help in Mandarin. Despite the difficulties, there is much occasion for joy in their lives, from trips to the Great Wall and bartering for a “starter Buddha” at the raucous flea market to feasting on the world’s best dumplings in back-alley restaurants.
Then Susan learns she has cancer. After treatment in Boston, she returns to Beijing, again as a foreigner—this time to her own body. Set against the eternally fascinating backdrop of modern China and full of insight into the trickiest questions of motherhood—How do you talk to children about death? When is it okay to lie?—this wry and poignant memoir is a candid look at mortality and belonging as well as a celebration of family.
“Compelling and humorous. . . . Beautifully written and insightful on many levels.” —Deborah Donovan, Booklist
“Luminous. . . . Conley's writing is at once spare and strong…[She] pulls the reader into her world like a close friend.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“I loved this memoir not only for its humor and humility, but for its gentle weaving of disparate elements—dislocation, illness, motherhood, travel, marriage—into a seamless, irresistible whole. It is beautifully written.” —Monica Wood, author of Any Bitter Thing
“Susan Conley’s China is gritty, unforgiving, and magnificently perplexing. How fitting a backdrop for a journey into motherhood—and how perfectly absurd a setting for the harrowing passage through cancer. This is an exquisite memoir, a gripping story from page one that tugs you along with the honest questioning and insightful whispers of a courageous best friend.” —Jeanne Marie Laskas, author of Growing Girls
“Susan Conley vividly shows how complicated life in China can become for expats. She expected surprises and adjustments when she moved to China with her husband and two little boys, but she never expected that the surprises would include her coping, as a young mother, with breast cancer. Her book is a story of resilience, told with grace and humor, and with Chinese accents.” —James Fallows, author of Postcards from Tomorrow Square
“The Foremost Good Fortune is a moving and exhilarating ride, as well as a deep meditation on family, belief and mortality. Conley’s keen eye captures small moments in gorgeous detail that offer a wider perspective on the whole they create. Conley resets the bar for the memoir with her humor, sensitivity, and stunning sentences.” —Lily King, author of Father of the Rain
“The Foremost Good Fortune is a treasure: The unique experience of being yanked out of context by moving to China and diagnosed with breast cancer allows Conley, paradoxically, to explore the most universal of women’s experiences—the meaning of our lives, the meaning of motherhood, the meaning of partnership.” —Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter
“From its endearing and at times comic tableau of an American family abroad in the new, proliferating China of today’s headlines, to the heartrending news that narrows Conley’s whole world to survival, The Foremost Good Fortune is told by an intrepid traveler who has found her voice in a daunting, exhilarating cultural wilderness . . . and has found it with wisdom and grace and wonder.” —Michael Paterniti, author of Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain
“Conley’s lovely memoir powerfully reminds us that we draw our strength from the many little wonders of our everyday lives.” —Henry L. Carrigan Jr., BookPage
“Terrific. . . . Conley deftly balances humor, poignancy and fierce honesty. She captures perfectly the distortion of normal family rhythms [and] is marvelously adept at giving readers just the right doses of her boys’ quirky quotidian habits, as well as her own manner of coping with the pleasures and burdens of living far, far from home. . . . This is a book of fortitude, of good humor, of love that is absolute and enduring.” —Debra Gwartney, The Oregonian
“Fresh and engaging. . . . [Conley’s] running account of the profound strangeness of both expat existence and contemporary China is fascinating.” —Rebecca Steinitz, The Boston Globe
“Graceful and honest, humorous and insightful.” —Christina Eng, San Francisco Chronicle
“You hear about riveting prose, and this is it. The Foremost Good Fortune is just about as honest a book as you’ll ever read. . . . [A] beautiful [story] about China and cancer and how to be an authentic, courageous human being.” —Carolyn See, The Washington Post
“Conley’s ability to describe her challenges honestly, without self-pity, leads you not only to relate to her, but also to admire her.” —Ellen Tarlin, Double X
“Rewardingly perceptive and frank.” —Judith Chettle, Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Heartbreakingly honest . . . strange, sweet, terrifying, and hilarious. . . . A beautifully intimate story of homesickness and culture shock, of motherhood and illness, of China and cancer, and the unwavering truths of family and friends and home. . . . The lovely surprise is that [Conley] turns the same observant eye on her memories of Maine.” —Kathleen Meil, DownEast.com
“This is a beautiful story of womanhood, motherhood, travel and loss, written by an author of rare and radiant grace.” —Elizabeth Gilbert