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The Foremost Good Fortune

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  1,930 Ratings  ·  428 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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Dec 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
This is very cool idea....
From the moment I read the blurp, I was intrigued.

Make sure to READ THE BLURP....( I read it at three different times myself)...
First... I'm curious to ask my friends..."what thoughts enter your mind when you consider what this photographer and writer created?"

Well...I had many thoughts....mostly, something really inspired and charmed me about these two mothers. I not only liked the idea ...( looking forward to seeing their end result), but from the beginning....their

Two friends, two mothers, two houses.
One photographer, one writer.
One street.
One year.
One family.

Susan Conley (writer) & Laura Lewis (photographer) spontaneously came up with this creative concept of documenting a year's worth of their family's memories. Every week, a photo was taken by one and captioned by the other.

The writing is lyrical, capturing thoughts and musings of the mothers or the children. The fitting accompaniment to the photography.
The photographs have this dreamlike qualit
Jul 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I won this book in a Firstreads giveaway.

Willow Pears lives in Paris, teaching poetry, and volunteering at a center off the Rue De la Metz for girls that are seeking asylum from immigration laws trying to send them back to their home countries. At the center, Willie, befriends the girls from all over the world and becomes attached to one in particular, Gita from India. She also falls in love with Macon, the lawyer fighting for these girls' asylum in France.

Willie is still having a tough time d
Randee Baty
This is the type of book that reminds me why I love to read. I'm completely caught up in a different world than my own.

The setting is Paris, which I love, and I can see the city as the characters describe it. The main character is a young American poetry teacher who teaches in a French academy. Her brother and his boyfriend also live in Paris. Her best friend and her husband live there as well.

Willie, short for Willow, is asked to teach a poetry class in a detainment center where teenage girls
Nancy Meservier
Paris Was the Place is an interesting read. I didn't think it was a bad book. In fact, there were some parts of it that I quite liked. Unfortunately, the book as a whole didn't mesh well with me. Most of my issues stem from the fact that it felt very unfocused. We have the story of Willow teaching poetry to immigrants seeking asylum. Willow's relationship with her brother, and flash backs of her family. A romantic storyline with a lawyer. A trip to India. Etc. Unfortunately, none of these storyl ...more
May 18, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Jun 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
The characters in this novel were so flat, I think if I pushed them too hard they would tip over. I cared about none of these characters; they didn't really give me a reason to connect with them. And the whole (view spoiler) Macon as a character was just very flat and he said things that I was like "I don't really think you have a real basis to ...more
Dec 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

When I first read about this book, I was both intrigued and maybe a little jealous. Years ago I tried to convince a friend to do something similar with me, but they never were interested enough to follow through.

I loved the ease of the writing, reminded me of childhood summer days, moments without a care in the world. Beautiful. Some of the writing emphasized the joy of childhood, and some focused more on those pre-teen years where, you know, parents can’t do anything right.

The photographs are
I LOVE Paris but I struggled to connect with this story.
At the beginning, I was sucked into the section about the main character's work with the immigrants at the detention centre. It was so promising!! I expected so much more with regards to the girls seeking asylum in France and the main character's relationship with these girls. That’s what I was really looking forward to.
Then the story line about the main character's brother takes over.
You get the impression that this is a case of two sho
Jul 29, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Full disclosure - I received a free copy of this book as part of the Amazon Vine program.

Historical novels that take place during one’s adult life are a different reading experience than books set in the distant past. When I read a book set in the Napoleonic era, I’m not mentally arguing with the author about the realities of the time.

Paris Was The Place is the story of Willie, which is short for Willow. Anachronism #1 – hippie babies were being born in the 80s, not 30 years old. Willow? Not so
Oct 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: asia, non-fiction, memoir
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
Nov 30, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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
May 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Paula Gallagher
Mar 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received an advanced copy from Elle magazine for review.

This is a perfect summer read. From Paris to India, from love to friendship, this novel covers Paris is a character itself in this novel. The description of the streets, the sights, and the people were so well written, I felt as if I was walking through Paris myself. And then the novel takes a detour to India, and again I felt I had been to this country that I have never been to before. The novel transports you to these places, and also t
May 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sentimental, heartfelt, eloquently visual, this book draws you into Paris in a realistic and captivating way. The narrator is distinctly human, flawed but trying, good-intentioned and young. Her job to help her students unfolds in an emotional story about generosity, family, loneliness, and so much more. As a romance and coming-of-age story the plot is a definite success for me. It contains many touching and tender moments, and while it is tragic it is also hopeful.
This book captures what it's
Cindy Fox
Aug 26, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: paris, india
Disappointing, I was interested in the plight of young refugee girls, about to be deported from Paris, but I found the leading character torn in too many directions to fully engage in any one of the themes in the book - the loss of her mother, the isolation from her father, her first real love affair, her brother's illness, her friend's new baby, the poems of an Indian woman, a quick trip to India, and the plight of the refugees. Scattered!
Aug 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Susan Conley is a very talented writer. I love reading about Paris. Books that take place in Paris are right up my alley. This was not the usual. Not only did Conley manage to bring Paris to life like never before, she also gave me a view of India that I might never have experienced without having read this novel. Although some of the content is sad and deals with dire illness, I have ended up with a very good impression. Not for the faint of heart, but do take this one in.
Jan 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Would you like to lose yourself in 52 beautiful life pictures, with imaginative poetry to highlight each one? How about entering childhood all over again through the images and writing of two present day mommas in Maine, who collaborated to produce a work of art? Well this is your read. These are your images and life. It's time to take a peak, dive in the water... and swim.
Megan Tedeschi
May 12, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book was so bad I could only (barely and with a lot of eye rolling and wondering what the heck she is even talking about) read 20 pages and then had to immediately return it to the library.
Mary Mitchell
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book follows the protagonist, Willie (short for Willow), as she becomes involved with a group of young girls seeking asylum in France through teaching them poetry. Along the way, her beloved only brother is diagnosed with AIDS, she falls in love, and she examines her tumultuous relationship to both her students and her eccentric father. By the end, Willie has experienced agonizing loss, forgiveness, and great love, and is the better for all three.
Sherry Spencer
Mar 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It's the story of an American family who moves to China for 2 years. Only the dad knows Chinese, so the mom and 2 little boys have a lot to learn about the culture and language. The story is told by the mom and she had me laughing and crying.
Feb 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Being from Maine, and having lived various parts of my life in Asia, including China, I really enjoyed her honesty and candor. She tells the truth about the internal controversies a mom has. Never mind a mom who is diagnosed with Cancer in the midst of the big family adventure.
I had a bit of an up and down reaction to this book. Told in the first person, this perhaps was my largest difficulty. I will admit to being harsh about first person narrative, there is a fine line between moving a story forward with a character’s voice and bringing the forward motion to a complete halt with inclusions of all the ephemera that we normally wouldn’t share with our friends during the day. Here often was a problem as descriptions of numerous Metro journeys, that weren’t used to expl ...more
C Frisbie
Feb 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 30, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I spent the first quarter really annoyed with the book and annoyed with the main character but I also couldn't put it down - I feel like I finished it more out of a sense of frustration than anything. I was really interested in the story of the asylum seekers more than anything. However, they are just a plot device to give this otherwise stock-character-filled novel something interesting. None of the other story lines or characters were special or unique or particularly new - BUT there is a reas ...more
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Around the World: China: Suzanne recommends: The Foremost Good Fortune 5 16 Dec 27, 2011 12:10PM  
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Susan Conley is the author of Elsey Come Home (Knopf, January 2019), a Library Journal Pre-Pub Alert pick for January. Kirkus writes that the "novel illustrates the power of storytelling as a process for healing. What entices and endures here is the voice: dreamy, meditative, hypnotic, and very real."
Susan is also the author of Paris Was the Place (Knopf, August 2013), an Amazon Fall Big Books Pic

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“Here it is out in the open and based—like all love is, maybe—on some amount of abiding affection and on some other amount of need.” 0 likes
“I can’t help smiling. He’s the reminder of the best part of our family. He’s me and not me. Better than me, because he sees me from afar and still loves me in a way that I can’t always love myself. And who can do that? Stop judging themselves?” 0 likes
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