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When Susan Conley, her husband, and their two young sons leave their house in Maine for a two-year stint in a high-rise apartment in Beijing, they are prepared to weather the inevitable onslaught of culture shock. But the challenges of living and mothering in an utterly foreign country become even more complicated when Susan learns she has cancer. After undergoing treatment in Boston, she returns to Beijing, again as a foreigner—but this time, it’s her own body in which she feels like a stranger.
Set against the eternally fascinating backdrop of modern China and full of insight into the trickiest questions of motherhood, this poignant memoir is a celebration of family and a candid exploration of mortality and belonging.
“This is a beautiful story of womanhood, motherhood, travel and loss, written by an author of rare and radiant grace.” —Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
“You hear about riveting prose, and this is it. . . . This is a beautiful book about China and cancer and how to be an authentic, courageous human being.” —The Washington Post
“Susan Conley has written a moving and deeply thoughtful memoir about her years in China. . . . This book is for anybody who has felt out of place, whether in a foreign country or a doctor’s office.” —Peter Hessler, author of Oracle Bones
“Conley deftly balances humor, poignancy and a fierce honesty. . . . This is a book of fortitude, of good humor, of a love that is absolute and enduring.” —The Oregonian
“Memoirs, I’ve come to understand, have a particular way of preparing us. We will all find ourselves up against life-threatening illness, and when we do, the masterful passages in this book will come flooding back to us, bringing perspective and comfort with every remembered word.” —Kelly Corrigan, author of The Middle Place
“It’s difficult to move halfway around the world and try to make a home for yourself—even a temporary one—in an alien land. It’s harder still to be diagnosed with a serious illness, undergo surgery and treatment, and cope with the aftermath of that process. Undertaking both at the same time seems overwhelming. . . . Conley’s ability to describe her challenges honestly, without self-pity, leads you not only to relate to her, but also to admire her.” —Slate, Book of the Week
“A journey of isolation, both physical and cultural. . . . Always fresh and engaging. . . . Conley . . . reveals how friendship buttresses women’s lives.” —The Boston Globe
“The Foremost Good Fortune is a moving and exhilarating ride, as well as a deep meditation on family, belief and mortality. . . . Conley resets the bar for the memoir with her humor, sensitivity, and stunning sentences.” —Lily King, author of Father of the Rain
“Remarkable. . . . In graceful and honest prose, she effectively tells both sides of her tale. She gets us to identify and empathize.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“A wonderful account of the sense of dislocation and difficulties—the sheer plunge-in-icy-water shock—that comes with moving a family to China.” —The Telegraph (London)
“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
“The Foremost Good Fortune contains moments both heartwarming and heart-wrenching.” —The Portland Phoenix
“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
“Startling, poignant.” —More
“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
“Conley’s lovely memoir powerfully reminds us that we draw our strength from the many little wonders of our everyday lives.” —BookPage
“Some books pull you into their orbit, taking you to another world. Susan Conley’s vivid memoir . . . is a case in point.” —The Portland Press Herald
“A story of resilience, told with grace and humor, and with Chinese accents.” —James Fallows, author of Postcards from Tomorrow Square
“Rewardingly perceptive and frank.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
“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
“You wouldn’t expect to see yourself in Susan Conley’s new memoir . . . . But you will. . . . 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.” —Down East magazine
“Irresistible. . . . An increasingly metaphysical narrative, Conley’s ‘travelogue’ aptly describes living under Communism, what Beijing was like as it prepared for the 2008 Olympics, and ultimately, what it means to be a foreigner in a strange place.” —The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)
“Far from your typical expat vanity project, The Foremost Good Fortune offers surprising depth and clarity on just what it means to live outside out comfort zones.” —The Beijinger
“Anyone who has ever fallen ill in a foreign country knows how scary that can be. . . . This touching memoir is a study in fortitude and acceptance, an inspiring read with much to say.” —The Missourian
“Offers insightful glimpses into contemporary China as [Conley] warms towards it, capturing the nuances of Beijing’s colorful people and its ancient language and customs amid the country’s unrelenting drive towards modernity.” —Time Out Hong Kong
“Luminous. . . . 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.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)