Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Foremost Good Fortune by Susan Conley


Four stars.

I won this book from a Goodreads First-read.

I am pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed Susan Conley's 'The Foremost Good Fortune'. Reading the synopsis of this book, though I knew I wasn't in the the target audience, I couldn't help but to be intrigued. Despite a few aspects of the novel that I simply couldn't relate to (and not just about cancer), this book was an overall pleasant read. It is a haunting yet detailed story of what it takes to be a family, a person, and possibly most important of all, a survivor.

Susan and her husband Tony, as well as their sons Aiden and Thorne, move from their warm, cozy Maine home to halfway across the world to Beijing. Tony is well versed in Chinese living, but it is a completely alien nation to the sons and to Susan. The boys are enrolled in an international school, and each family member must learn to live and function in this new land, since they are to live here for two years. Aiden and Thorne begin to learn the language, and slowly but surely they begin to adapt to living here. This ties into one part of the memoir that I did not enjoy. Susan is distant and almost cold to her children because they are beginning to learn the Chinese way of life while she is struggling with her own self alienation and lack of Chinese communication skills.

Over time, Susan too begins to speak a bit of the language, and the entire family begins to make new friends from not just China but all over the world. Everything seems to be balancing out, and the family is settling in to the Asian landscape. But as the ominous, shadowy undertone that carries through the pages of this memoir, there is more drama ahead.

Susan feels two small lumps in her breast, and seeks treatment in a Beijing hospital. At first the doctor tells her that it is nothing to worry about, but upon further operation and inspection her fear is confirmed, and she is diagnosed with breast cancer.

The rest of the book passes in a whirlwind of emotion and self-searching as she travels between Boston and China for treatment, and eventually comes to terms with being both alone in "the cancer lake" as well as once again being part of a loving, supportive family to whom she becomes closer to after her diagnosis.

Over all, this novel paints a vivid image of life in Beijing. The people, the food, and the sights are all given their time in the story, making me more interested in China. That being said, I don't feel like I learned anything about living with cancer from this memoir. It was summed up as, she was diagnosed, then it skips through treatment, and suddenly she is back in China. I expected more of an emotional regaling of her tale, but it came off a bit cold and seen over. For this I have rated it four stars- I recommend it to those who are looking for a book about a family in China, but if you are looking for a journey about cancer, it will fall short of your expectations


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