Susan Conley left her home in Portland, Maine with her husband and 2 young boys to live in Beijing. While in Beijing, Susan was to be working on a novel but instead, produced a honest, touching and sometimes humorous portrayal of the four Americans in China on the eve of the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Susan’s husband, Tony has always loved China, studied the language in college and backed-packed through the Chinese countryside prior to meeting Susan. Susan knew that having a life with Tony would somehow include China. So when Tony has an opportunity to open a new office in Beijing for his company and it will mean 2 years of living Beijing, the family packs their bags.
The first of half of The Foremost Good Fortune is a story of settling into a new country, the quirks of not understanding the language and the observations of Thorne and Aidan, Susan’s young boys, settling into a new school, language and home. Thorne has a phase of spontaneously, and constantly signing patriotic songs while trying to make new friends.
Susan resorts to bribery to convince her children to board the school bus, even though Thorne makes the excellent point that they can’t ask the bus driver for help because they don’t know Chinese. In a country without religion, Aiden is suddenly fascinated with God. Susan learns how to date other expat women in the city, like all things in China, there is a certain protocol to making friends.
Just as the family is starting to feel comfortable, they have the beginnings of friendships, the boys are learning Chinese in leaps and bounds; something else foreign is introduced into their lives. Susan finds a lump in her breast. From here, the memoir is as much about surviving breast cancer as it is living in China. Suddenly the frustration Susan felt about trying to buy apples in the market pales compared to the betrayal of her body and the bureaucracy of the Beijing hospital.
Aiden and Thorne are often the highlight of this family’s story, bringing humor and honesty, usually in the form of abrupt statements or thoughtful questions. They seem to sense that there is something wrong with Susan long before she does and they also seem to be move beyond the cancer with the ease that children sometimes have and adults rarely have.
The Foremost Good Fortune seems on the surface to be a story of living abroad but on closely examination, it is a story of a family, being a family.
The Foremost Good Fortune by Susan Conley was purchased by the Boston Book Bums