Most of us can only imagine that moving to a different country would be an exhilarating experience. Add two young children to the mix, plus a husband working long hours, a painful void of local friendships, very little understanding of the language, and a way of life that is completely foreign in just about every way, and the move still sounds exciting, but incredibly stressful as well. Pile atop all of those concerns a cancer diagnosis, and try to imagine communicating with doctors who don’t quite take you seriously and with whom you do not quite share a common language. This is the meat of Susan Conley’s memoir, The Foremost Good Fortune.
Conley’s book chronicles the nearly three years she spent in China with her family, and how her life totally changed during that time. Conley bravely and eloquently describes the disorientation, isolation, homesickness, and depression that she experiences as she feels all alone in a vastly foreign country, and also in her cancer diagnosis. But she also shares her growing love for the people and places of China, and slowly the reader feels less out of place and more at home as Conley herself transforms from a visitor to a resident who is finding her footing and creating and even embracing a new normal. Following Conley home to the U.S. is bittersweet because it feels like she has just begun to feel some sense of belonging and finally learned to love her life in China.
The Foremost Good Fortune comes across as mildly disjointed in parts. However, I quickly came to think of this as symbolic of Conley’s experience in China as she acclimates to life in an utterly foreign land with very little personal language connection. I thought the awkwardness was perfect, because I could feel, as I read her words, how uncomfortable and homesick she felt. I found myself thinking of how alone I might feel in a similar situation, even with my family surrounding me. As Conley’s story progressed, I felt that she was letting me, as the reader, get to know her more and more, a little at a time. This book is an honest look at what it felt like for Conley to be uprooted, both geographically and mentally, and how she managed to persevere.
Alysia lives in Metro Detroit with her husband and four children. She writes about family life, parenting issues, and other things of interest to her on her blog, Michigal.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Knopf. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.