Monday, January 2, 2017

book journal: The Foremost Good Fortune by Susan Conley

Books are one of my favorite ways of exploring new places and revisiting familiar places. When I travel, I've always loved to read books set in the place I'm visiting. This year, I'm leading a J-term travel seminar to Chiang Mai, Thailand. The course is the culmination of almost two years of work, and I'm spent a lot of time learning about Thailand. When our flights were finalized, I learned we're flying through Beijing both ways. I began seeking out books about China, and I was intrigued by Susan Conley's memoir about the two years she and her family spent living in Beijing. Conley is a novelist, and I'm drawn to memoirs written by fiction writers. Moreover, I wasn't necessarily interested in immersing myself in China; I wanted to see it through the eyes of a western woman so I could anticipate my own experience with culture shock. I sought answers to the questions I didn't even know to ask. I wanted insight into Chinese culture and the difficulty of adjusting to it.

There are many places in the world I can imagine myself living, particularly in the short term, but China is not one of them. I am intimidated of China and would be deeply uncomfortable living under its government's laws. Conley wasn't as reluctant as I am, but she was certainly trepidatious in ways I could easily relate to. I enjoyed joining Conley in her frustration and joys, be they related to China, parenting two young boys, or cancer.

While this is a travel memoir, it's more of a personal memoir. While in Beijing, Conley learns she has breast cancer. In that sense, this memoir is one of two journeys, but those journeys are inextricably linked. Conley doesn't isolate her thoughts on cancer, living in China, or any other part of her experience; this memoir is the story of two years in her life. I came seeking a book about Beijing, and while I got that, I got so much more out of reading this memoir. One of the highlights of this memoir was discovering Conley's close friendship with Lily King (I adored her last novel, Euphoria.) I think one of the reasons I love reading nonfiction by fiction writers is discovering all of their connections and friendships.

While living in Beijing, Conley worked on a novel that would become Paris Was the Place. It's premise intrigues me, and given how much I enjoyed Conley's writing in this book, I'm adding it to my list.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 280 pages
Publication date: February 2011
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Foremost Good Fortune from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Susan Conley's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

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