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Must-read: The Foremost Good Fortune by Susan Conley

Newly released in paperback, Susan Conley’s memoir about her family’s move to Beijing has a little of everything. It’s funny, sweet and charming, but it’s also moving and emotional. Conley’s diagnosis with breast cancer during their China stay is a difficult obstacle, but the author never loses her wit and grace in the face of the toughest battles, both cultural and health-related.

Susan Conley’s husband, Tony, has had a fascination with China for most of his life. Therefore, when he receives an opportunity to move to China, he is ecstatic. It’s a great step forward professionally, and the The Foremost Good Fortune coverchance to live in China is one that he can’t turn down. But Susan is less optimistic. The Conleys have two young boys they would have to relocate to Beijing, and Susan is unsure of how she will fare in such a different culture, with a non-English speaking majority. She can’t deny Tony this opportunity, so she agrees to the move.

Once in China, Susan is overwhelmed. Her children are miserable and aren’t able to make friends easily, though they attend an international school. Tony works all the time, leaving Susan to manage the household. Though the family hires the customary maid and cook, Susan feels uncomfortable with having help around the house. And Susan and her boys, of course, miss their home. Nevertheless, Susan maintains a healthy sense of humor and forges ahead with her Chinese adventure, making friends and learning the language to the best of her ability.

All of this comes to a quick halt, when Susan discovers a lump in her breast. In just a matter of days, even hours, her entire worldview changes drastically. More than just a cancer memoir or a travelogue, The Foremost Good Fortune is a reflection on life, at its best and worst moments.

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