The Foremost Good Fortune by Susan Conley

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Susan Conley, her husband, and their two young sons say good-bye to their friends, family, and house in Maine for a two-year stint in a high-rise apartment in Beijing, prepared to embrace the inevitable onslaught of new experiences that such a move entails. But Susan can’t predict just how much their lives will change.

While her husband is consumed with his job, Susan works on finishing her novel and confronting the challenges of day-to-day life in an utterly foreign country: determining the proper way to buy apples at a Chinese megamarket; bribing her little boys to ride the school bus; fielding invitations to mysterious “sweater parties” and tracking down the faux-purse empire of the infamous Bag Lady; and getting stuck in an elevator, unable to call for help in Mandarin.

Despite the distractions, there are many occasions for joy.  From road trips to the Great Wall and bartering for a “starter Buddha” at the raucous flea market to lighting fireworks in the streets for the Chinese New Year and feasting on the world’s best dumplings in back-alley restaurants, they gradually turn their unfamiliar environs into a true home.

Then 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 a stranger.  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 celebration of family and a candid exploration of mortality and belonging.

From the Hardcover edition.

About Susan Conley

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Susan Conley is the author of The Foremost Good Fortune, a book that won the Maine Literary Award for memoir and was a Goodreads Choice Award finalist. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. She's been awarded fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and the Massachusetts Arts Council. She is the cofounder of The Telling Room, a creative-writing lab in Portland, Maine, where she lives with her husband and their two sons.

Author Residence: Portland, ME

Author Hometown: Burlington, VT
Published February 8, 2011 by Vintage. 290 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Health, Fitness & Dieting, Travel, History, Education & Reference, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Foremost Good Fortune

Kirkus Reviews

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Conley secured the use of Tony’s driver, a kindly, calm local man, and quickly hired an ayi, the indispensable “magical housekeeper.” The author offers the requisite observations of an ex-pat in China—no sidewalks, everybody yells, general brainwash about the Cultural Revolution—and can’t quite g...

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Publishers Weekly

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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 apa...

Oct 25 2010 | Read Full Review of The Foremost Good Fortune

New York Journal of Books

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The family explores the Wall of China, horseback riding, and sightseeing, plus enjoys the exotic and delicious Chinese delicacies, but the transition is still difficult.Within a year of acclimating to the complexities of her new life, Ms.

Feb 08 2011 | Read Full Review of The Foremost Good Fortune

Oregon Live

Surely it occurred to Conley, a bright and worldly woman, that the nurse might have known more about Asian genocide and resettlement than about geopolitics -- or at least realize that the geographical designation "Middle East" doesn't have the same meaning to someone in Beijing as it does to a ci...

Feb 19 2011 | Read Full Review of The Foremost Good Fortune

Conley is ostensibly working on a novel that she plans to finish while in Beijing, but life rarely goes according to plan, and just as the Forbidden City exists inside the city of Beijing, another story unfolds within her China story, a story of breast cancer.

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Bookmarks Magazine

Susan Conley has published extensively in newspapers and magazines and has taught creative writing and literature at several colleges.

Feb 21 2011 | Read Full Review of The Foremost Good Fortune

Las Vegas Review Journal

(She is cancer-free at this time.) In this fast-moving, fascinating memoir, Susan Conley provides a remarkable firsthand look at life in a vastly different culture, a unique experience that was unfortunately colored by the stress and fear of fighting cancer.

Jun 06 2011 | Read Full Review of The Foremost Good Fortune

Story Circle Book Reviews

I have a special connection to China, so I was intrigued by the title, cover, and a memoir set in China.

Apr 04 2011 | Read Full Review of The Foremost Good Fortune

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