In 2008, Susan Conley embarked on the most adventurous, challenging and harrowing road trip of her life. When her husband Tony landed a job in Beijing and moved there ahead of his family, she and their two young sons packed up their belongings and their lives in Maine and journeyed to the East.

A woman in transition, Conley stepped off the plane into a land of transitions: the ancient beauty and power of the Great Wall, the manic preparations for the coming Olympic games, poverty and wealth sitting cheek-to-cheek on city streets. She describes her own misadventures, misgivings and mistakes with humor in The Foremost Good Fortune, her animated account of her daily life in her new home.

As she struggles to learn the language, to absorb the stark cultural differences between her old life and her new one, and to provide stability for her sons while her husband is consumed with his own job, Conley discovers some lumps on her breast that send her to the local hospital in Beijing. Because the medical staff seem indifferent to her fears, she returns to the U.S. for medical care and eventually undergoes a mastectomy in a Boston hospital. After a six-week period of convalescence at home in Maine, she returns to Beijing, to Tony and her sons.

On the first anniversary of her mastectomy, Conley gets stuck in the elevator in their high-rise apartment building, and all the anger, fear, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy that have been lurking just beneath the surface of her daily life are revealed in a phone call to her husband. When she emerges from the elevator, she decides that she should lose track of the date of her mastectomy.

In the end, she recognizes that “words are what get me up in the morning. . . . Because the stories of our lives live on. And I would like my story to be about hope. It will also have the word disease in it, but that won’t be the whole story.” Conley’s lovely memoir powerfully reminds us that we draw our strength from the many little wonders of our everyday lives.


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