Monday, January 23, 2012

The Foremost Good Fortune: A Memoir by Susan Conley

While compiling my best biographies and memoirs list of 2011, I noticed that the Washington Post included The Foremost Good Fortune: A Memoir by Susan Conley. In it, the American novelist recounts her two years in Beijing with her banker husband and their two young sons. Knowing that I usually enjoy Americans-abroad stories and expecting a novelist to tell a good story, I borrowed it from the library. My expectations were well met.

In The Foremost Good Fortune, Conley describes the strangeness of her new urban life, seeing the Chinese city cleaned and polished to receive hundreds of thousands of visitors for the 2008 Olympics, while she searched through the international community for someone to be her friend and confidant. Struggling to learn Mandarin and feeling lost in Chinese markets, Conley often felt displaced, while her husband and sons thrived. They had a bank job and schools to attend each day, while she stayed in their cavernous eighth floor apartment or ventured out into the confusing Beijing neighborhoods. Then she discovered the lumps in her breasts.

Admitting her faults and fears, Conley draws readers close to her crisis. They listen to her deliberations, weigh the merits of her decisions, and celebrate her survival. They may also wonder how they would fare immersed in another culture. The Foremost Good Fortune would be a good choice for book discussion groups.

If you visit Susan Conley's blog, you can see some photos from her Beijing stay.

Conley, Susan. The Foremost Good Fortune: A Memoir. Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 276p. ISBN 9780307594068.

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