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The Foremost Good Fortune

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3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  761 ratings  ·  196 reviews
The Foremost Good Fortune 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.) In 2007, American writer Susan Conley moves to Beijing with her husband and two young sons. Six months later, she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Set against the fascinating backdrop of ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published February 8th 2011 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2011)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,858)
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Nicole
This memoir really fell short of my expectations. The first third of the book the author complained about not fitting in in her new country, China. She actually begrudged her sons, 4 and 6, for mastering Mandarin faster than she did. It is horrible for me to admit this, but when Conley finally went to the doctor's (around page 100), I thought, "Oh, good. She's finally going to get to the cancer part." Bad, I know, but thus far the book was just another "ugly American" whining. The unfortunate th ...more
Maddy
I was really looking forward to reading this book, and I was hoping I would like it, because I will soon be transplanted into Chinese culture/country where I plan to raise my children. My future husband is a native, and I know my children will soon be overtaking my Chinese level by the time they're in kindergarten. So in this book I wanted to catch a glimpse of how the author felt lost/disoriented/isolated in the new country. I felt like I could really relate with all that (except for the cancer ...more
Sofia
There are two Susans in this book: before and after cancer. The first Susan frustrated me with her negativity and often superior tone. Yes, Beijing is a pretty dirty city, the bureaucracy can drive you crazy, and if you don't speak Mandarin you're in serious trouble. But the Beijing of 2008 was also an amazingly exciting place. What kept me reading, despite the author's apparent lack of adventurous spirit, was the small insights into Beijing living. The book is structured in short episodes cente ...more
Paula Gallagher
Conley agrees to relocate her family to Beijing for two years as her husband Tony introduces credit-rating systems to state-run banks. He's excited to travel back to the country he'd backpacked through in the mid 80s, and he knows the language. She doesn't, and she's in charge of the minutiae of their daily lives-- caring for their young sons, shopping(including locating $10 a box Honey Nut Cheerios), managing the household (hiring a competent ayi who can cook and clean), and navigating the comp ...more
Catherine
May 21, 2011 Catherine rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Catherine by: Jenn
The Foremost Good Fortune is a book about dislocation - the dislocation of moving to another country; the dislocation of worrying your choices were wrong; the dislocation of disease (Conley's breast cancer). Conley, her husband, and her two sons move to Beijing for two years so that her husband can establish a company there, and while some of the book does offer a look at what the city is like, what China means to an American set down in its midst, this isn't a travel narrative, or a wrestling w ...more
Katie
Weirdly, I really enjoyed this book, despite disliking 2 major aspects of it: (1) it struck me as yet another privileged white woman navel-gazing expedition (I seem to have read a lot of these lately... I'd dub it the "Eat, Pray, Love" genre but there are so many of these that I hate to name it after only one book), and (2) so much of it was focused on her struggles with child-rearing while in Beijing, a topic which has no relevance on my childless life and in which I am not interested. Yet I st ...more
Judy
May 29, 2012 Judy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Judy by: Suzanne
Susan Conley's memoir proved to be a good follow-up to The Last Empress and Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by providing a look at modern-day China and thereby, the results of the political decisions recorded in those two books.

Conley's account of her two years in China along with her husband, Tony, and young sons, Aiden and Thorne, isn't just about where they went, what they did and funny things that Beijingren do, but more about the emotional journey of living in a foreign country and dea
...more
Heidi
Susan, an American housewife from Maine, moved her young family (her boys were 4 and 6) to China for her husband's dream job. And Susan didn't like it. She didn't settle in well, didn't have friends, found it hard to communicate, didn't like the smog, etc. And later she came home and wrote a book about how much she hated China. Sound like fun?

Halfway through the book, Susan got breast cancer. Unsurprisingly, Susan with breast cancer is even less happy and less likable than Susan without breast c
...more
Qi Fu
I must start by saying that I usually don't love memoir so was skeptical when a friend in the states pointed me to the video on susan conley dot com The video immediately drew me in, I read the first chapter on line, ordered the kindle version and could not put it down after that.

I have lived in China for six years and can say that this book vividly captures Beijing on the eve of the Olympics and the feelings that every foreigner has when living in a new environment as an ex-pat. It brought back
...more
C Frisbie
The Foremost Good Fortune is a testament my belief that the best storytellers begin as poets. After earning an MFA in poetry and going on to publish poems in some of the nation's best journals, Susan Conley has written a memoir that can feel like a poem in its exploration of language and voice, yet the book also bears the virtues of creative non-fiction: strong stories and reader friendly writing. This mix makes for a fascinating ride through modern China! --and also through the mysterious, body ...more
Jaylia3
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 o
...more
Joanne  Clarke Gunter
I did not like this book very much and it was a struggle to finish it. The writing is fine. The author is the problem. I have read a number of books about Americans, Chinese-Americans, and Chinese people working and living in China, but none have been as whiny as this one. And all other of the authors I have read on this topic found SOMETHING they loved about China and wrote about it. This author spends so much time complaining about the fact that she has no friends, cannot speak the language (e ...more
Sally
I read through some of the other reviews of this book, and it was widely liked. However, I had some majori issues. The memoir retells about the years that Susan Conley spent in China with her husband and her two young sons. During this time, she had to adjust to a completely new culture, new language, and new routines. She also was faced with the devastating news that she had breast cancer.

In theory, the things that happened to her were monumental. I can't even imagine the changes that she and h
...more
Gretchen
A wonderful read!! I had the pleasure of meeting Susan Conley at a book-signing in her honor. Had I read the book ahead of time, there would have been much more to say, compliments to offer and questions to ask! I don't think I've ever read a memoir before - cerainly not one written by someone whose hand I have shaken. Her words are so smart, so vivid, she introduces the reader to the wonders and complexities of China - it's culture, people, landscape and language. I laughed, I cried - hers is a ...more
Heather
I won this book by entering through the Giveaway section. My copy is sgined by the author, Susan Conley. I enjoyed this book very much, as Conley shares her story of living in China and surviving cancer. She relays her experiences in an endearing and real way. I somehow thought the entire book was going to center around her cancer, but I was happy to discover that she wrote about her family's quirky adjustments to a new country, and how they came together to triumph over adversity. Conley does n ...more
Erika
I really enjoyed this book, though I wanted to feel even more deeply her emotional experience of being diagnosed with cancer in the most foreign of countries, China. Beautifully written. Would make a compelling movie if done right.
Devika Koppikar
This was one rare book that I could not put down. I finished the almost 300 pages within 10 days. What carried me through was the feeling Conley gave you as if you were right there in Beijing with the family, her vivid descriptions of the streets and scenery and the personal transformation she went through following cancer. I love stories where the author or characters have unexpected personal transformations.

However, the booked was peppered with hints of ethnocentrism and American superiority.
...more
Gwen
Mar 11, 2015 Gwen rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Gwen by: Washington Post best non-fiction of 2011
Shelves: biography-memoir
This book came highly recommended, but I found it to be a shallow look at the expatriate lifestyle and highly frustrating, even though I could somewhat identify with her situation.

I wondered if my mother ever felt the way Conley did--moving halfway across the world with two small children (exactly the same age as Conley's kids, no less) to a country so profoundly different from the United States and anything she had really known. However, unlike Conley, I believe my mother already knew that chi
...more
Nina
This book focuses on two major events in Susan Conley’s life: moving to China and dealing with cancer. They’re supposed to mirror one another: first Susan is a stranger in a new country, and then she becomes a stranger to her own body. It sounds cleverly put together with the promise of some sort of deep, inspired conclusion. Unfortunately, it never quite works. The connection never fully materialized for me.

The parts dealing with Conley’s cancer are my least favorite in the book. I think perhap
...more
Lance Cromwell
"There's so much humanity here..." So states Susan Conley, chronicling her initial impressions of Beijing; but the same is very much true of this stunningly well-written memoir. I was simply floored by The Foremost Good Fortune. It was beautifully written overall, with some absolutely exquisite passages and sentences in there. It hit me on all sorts of levels, and as such, I find that it is wholly (and widely!) recommendable. There is something in there for the Traveler, the Parent, the Spouse/P ...more
Sandy
Loved it! I have always lived in the city that as I was born in so doing something so daring as Susan did was exciting to me. To pick up and move from the U.S. to China for a two-year stint was daring and brave on her part especially with two small children and not knowing the Chinese language. I couldn't understand why she did not learn some Chinese before she went or take some Rosetta Stone classes but perhaps that is the perfectionist I have in me but this book had all the elements for me. I ...more
Jim
The title of this book is a line from DHAMMAPADA 15 as translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu “Freedom from illness: the foremost good fortune. It’s a memoir of the author’s move to China with her husband and two young sons and her experiences there. She does a good job conveying the cultural differences and her own disorientation. She never seems really comfortable, always an outsider looking in. When she is diagnosed with breast cancer, a second more ominous factor is added to her problems. The canc ...more
Kristen
Or perhaps even five stars.

I received this book through first giveaways and was charmed almost immediately. It's the memoir of a mother of two young sons who agreed to go to China with her husband, and is diagnosed with breast cancer while she's there.

Conley's stepping out into a new culture bump up against her fears, and the resulting insights and story is absolutely unlike any of the other books about "my visit to China" on the market. (There are a bunch right now.) Conley's elegant writing
...more
Jillyn
I won this book from a Goodreads First-read.

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
...more
Suzanne
Picture this: you are a mother of two young boys and your husband has recently accepted a new job in Beijing. You do not speak Chinese, but you are brave enough to pack up your kids and your household and move halfway around the world. This is exactly what happened to author Susan Conley, and The Foremost Good Fortune is the memoir of Conley’s two and a half years in China.

I have to admit that I really enjoy hearing about life in other countries. And an American’s take on life abroad puts things
...more
Ashley
A big thanks to goodreads' first reads for a copy of this one! The Foremost Good Fortune is a memoir of the two years Susan Conley and her family live in China, during which, she happens to find out she has breast cancer. And I don't mean to dismiss the significance of breast cancer, but that is how the story reads: it is the tale of translocation, culture shock and parenting, with a little cancer thrown in.

I really wanted to love this novel. But if just didn't quite do it for me. Conley's writi
...more
Sarah Beth
I won this book as a giveaway on Goodreads. This memoir tells Susan's story of moving to Beijing with her husband and two small sons. Culturally isolated and further removed by her inability to speak Mandarin, Conley struggles to adjust to a vastly different way of life. Just as she's settling in, Conley is diagnosed with breast cancer. This is Conley's story of China and cancer.

I loved Conley's writing style. This book was very honest and open and the author captures the nuances of social inte
...more
Sherry
Reading this book in the Tokyo while visiting Maja, having had it recommended to me by her good friend here, Erin, who was in a writers' group with the author in Beijing and is working on her own ex-pat novel, made it an even more interesting read. Susan Conley is foremost a poet according to Erin and her writing reflects that tho the subject of this book is not the stuff of poetry. She writes about her move with her husband and two young sons, 4 & 6, to Beijing for two and a half years. It ...more
Tabitha Blankenbiller
Conley’s memoir about life
pre- and post- a breast cancer diagnosis in China was an engaging, though uneven, story nestled around family. Her husband and two young sons are well-rounded characters, painted fully with flaws and details that bring them to life. She avoids the trap of making her children sound too “precious” by rounding each out: what scares him, what makes him annoying as hell. If Conley had used this brush to paint herself as a narrator-character earlier in the book, she may have
...more
Lisa N
Author Susan Conley moved with her husband, who was fluent in Mandarin, and two young sons to China for a couple of years. While living in Beijing, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, necessitating a brief return trip to the States for her surgery and chemo.

Interesting to be a part of their adventures, as they become immersed in a new culture, her sons adapt to their new school, and she slowly learns the language and makes friends, then tries to make sense of her disease.

One of her first imp
...more
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Around the World ...: Suzanne recommends: The Foremost Good Fortune 5 16 Dec 27, 2011 08:10PM  
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Susan Conley is the author of Paris Was the Place (Knopf, August 2013), an Amazon Fall Big Books Pick for fiction, an Indie Next Pick, and an Elle Magazine Readers Prize Pick. People magazine calls it “a satisfying cassoulet of questions about home, comfort and love, served with a fresh perspective on a dazzling city” while Booklist says that, “Deftly exploring the complexities of friendship, fami ...more
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