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The Foremost Good Fortune by Susan Conley

The Foremost Good Fortune

by Susan Conley

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1268150,769 (3.65)1
This is a memoir of moving the author's family from Portland, Maine to Beijing on the eve of the 2008 Olympics when her husband accepts a dream job for 2 years.



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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 part).

She does offer some slices of Beijing life. But I could not enjoy them as much because of her delivery. In the first parts of the book, what I disliked was the airy-fairy, pensive tone of the narrator. She was also a little too heavy-handed with the metaphors. Like, let's say she encounters Object X. She will then compare herself, or her sons, or her husband, to how they are like object or situation X. There's nothing wrong with that, inherently, but maybe it was done in a way that was too conspicuous, or it felt a little forced.

I liked that each chapter was relatively short, like a magazine piece, but I wasn't very fond how the book is generously sprinkled with "Sex In The City" type rhetorical questions or "thoughtful" observations.

Then after the cancer... geez, what a downer. I know I'm not being very sympathetic. I know she's been through hell. I know you've been in an abyss, but do you have to drag your readers down into it as well? It's such a depressing read. I feel it's a waste because she had a lot of material here, but she just wasn't distanced enough from the issue yet to be able to turn it into something closer to art. I felt disappointed because for a poet, her wording is so artless. I was looking for some beautiful turn of phrase. I wanted to tell her: You're a writer! Do more with the language!

Instead it was like her narrative was sapped of energy, and she used only the most basic words, in an ordinary manner.

Too navel-gazing for me. I wish she wasn't so closed off/resistant to/scared of the new culture -- at least in the end. She can be all these things at the start, but I'd love some small signs of transformation that show how she's opened up in the end. She SAYS she's changed, in the end. But I would have wanted to have seen it. I know it's a memoir, but there's too much telling, not enough showing. I guess I wanted vignettes, not a journal.

The best part of the book for me was at the end, the scene where they say goodbye to Lao Wu. It wasn't overwrought, so it struck the right note.

Maybe people who are cancer survivors will appreciate this more than I did. ( )
  mrsrobin | Jun 24, 2017 |
I've never been to China. I don't have any kids. And I'm not a cancer survivor.

However, I still found so many things to relate to in this novel. We all know people who have fought the cancer battle, whether they were victorious or not. I appreciated the insights that Conley provided on not just the physical implications of cancer, but the mental and spiritual implications as well. I sympathized with Conley's insecurities as she tried to adjust to living in a foreign country.

On the other hand, because I'm not a traveler, Mom, or cancer survivor, I was able to glean new insights on Chinese culture, the nitty-gritty of motherhood, and what it's like to battle a disease. I feel a little bit more educated about the world having read this novel.

In the end, I was surprised by how much I liked this novel. I wasn't a fan of Conley's modern writing style, but she still found a way to reach me and to speak her message of hope, healing, and the joy that comes from simply living life. ( )
  AngelClaw | Feb 2, 2016 |
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 her family went though - it's one thing to move across the world when it's just you, but to move an entire family, that's just a little (ok, a lot) crazy!

However, in reality, I just got frustrated. I felt that she was struggling from the beginning, and while she did THINGS to take in the country, she never truly embraced it. She was constantly irritated, constantly annoyed, and constantly unhappy. I was originally thinking that she would move past it, but it kept coming up through every part of the book. I think she broached acceptance towards the end, but not enough for me to truly fall in love with the book...

I don't know - it just didn't grab me. I was looking forward to the end of the book by the time I was halfway through. That's not a good sign. ( )
  salgalruns | Apr 5, 2013 |
Susan, her husband and their two young sons leave their home in Maine to live in Beijing, China. Much of the beginning of the story is about Susan's worry that she has uprooted her children from a happy, comfortable life to living in chaos and the unknown of a foreign culture.
I thought this memoir was extremely honost and well-written. At one point Susan wrote that she overheard a foreign women saying she could pretty much live anywhere in China, but never in Beijing. I think much of this story was about Susan trying to embrace a new culture with enthusiasm and just as her family begins to adjust, Susan discovers she has breast cancer.
She decides to have treatment in the United States, and soon after, returns to China. I have the feeling that from this point on, the author would have preferred to have been home in Maine in familiar surroundings.
I have also lived in an Asian country for two years and could definitely appreciate Susan's candor and honesty in describing her new home. Yet I had the sense that the author never made close connections with other expats or locals in her community. It seemed she never felt settled or in love with certain aspects of China. However, everyone's overseas experience is different. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and her true feelings of her experience with cancer. ( )
  melaniehope | Jan 5, 2012 |
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It’s late on a cold April night in Portland, Maine, and I lie on the couch staring hard at a glossy pullout map of Beijing. My two boys are asleep upstairs in their beds, and my husband has just landed in China to buy swivel chairs for his new office there. I want this map to offer a clue of what a life in Beijing would look like. But the more I gaze at street names, the more distant they feel: would we live on a road called Yongdingmen Xibinhe? Or Changchunqiao?
No one has to explain to me that the journey will be about confronting unknowns: the nuanced language, and a history so rich that Marco Polo and Genghis Khan both sharpened their teeth there. But also the unknown of the person I’ve most recently become—a mother still unsure of her new job description. A nap czar and food commandant.
China and cancer are both big countries, so there’s a lot to say about each. But let me start back at the beginning.
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