Fortune was smiling on Susan Conley: her new apartment in Beijing was on the eighth floor (eight being China’s luckiest number); she had not one, but two beautiful sons (sons being highly valued in China); and this 40-year-old writer, mother, and wife would get to spend two years embracing a new culture. But somehow “fortunate” wasn’t really how Susan felt, a better description might be that she was bewildered at the intricacies of learning Mandarin, dismayed by the thick, soup-like smog that settled like a blanket over Beijing, frustrated at the many permits required, and bemused by every day Chinese life.
Of course life did get easier once she started learning Mandarin from a friendly young tutor and hired a wonderful housekeeper – an ayi – to help with the shopping and cleaning. There were shopping dates with new friends at Beijing’s thriving black markets and trips into the countryside with her family to see the Great Wall and an old Buddhist Temple. Yes, life was getting better until Susan discovered that she was about to become a stranger in yet another new land: she had breast cancer.
Imagine being in a foreign country and being diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness. Imagine not having the words to describe your concerns and being faced with a culture which had different ideas about treatment. It was time for Susan to go home, but would she ever return to Beijing? The Foremost Good Fortune by Susan Conley is a poignant, sometimes funny memoir about a bewildered outsider confronting her own mortality.