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A Memoir

by Susan Conley

Pub Date: Feb. 8th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-59406-8
Publisher: Knopf

A frank, anecdotal memoir about the author’s time in Beijing and her battle with cancer.

Conley’s husband, Tony, had studied Mandarin extensively and long dreamed of living in China. When his financial business finally sent him to Beijing in 2008, on the eve of the Olympics, he convinced his wife to give it a shot for two years. Conley, at 40, with no Chinese, was reluctant to leave the comfort of her Portland, Maine. Throughout this fairly slow-going chronicle of her impressions, she retains the wary, somewhat supercilious tone of a privileged foreigner who doesn’t want to get her feet wet. The first half of the book relates her attempts to get her bearings and her two young sons situated in school. The family lived in a large loft-like, elevator-accessible apartment in the center of a construction site; the boys were bussed to an international school. Conley secured the use of Tony’s driver, a kindly, calm local man, and quickly hired an ayi, the indispensable “magical housekeeper.” The author offers the requisite observations of an ex-pat in China—no sidewalks, everybody yells, general brainwash about the Cultural Revolution—and can’t quite get anybody to delve beyond superficialities, mainly because of the language barrier. Eventually, Conley discovered lumps in her breast and had them removed before a biopsy was taken. When they were revealed to be cancerous, she flew back to Boston to have a mastectomy. Toward the end, the memoir gains momentum and a sense of closure when she and the kids returned to their life in Beijing for the fall school semester, and Conley recognized that she was truly fond of the city, their acquaintances, the food and the landscape.

A straightforward tale of how China won over an American family.