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Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven Hardcover – International Edition, March 24, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best of the Month, March 2009: While this latest memoir from Susan Jane Gilman (former Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress) appears to be a saucy account of international sexcapades, it quickly reveals its whip-smarts, sucking you into a story that brilliantly captures the "ecstatic terror" of gleefully leaping from your comfort zone--and finding yourself in freefall. It's 1986, and newly minted ivy league grads Susy and her friend Claire have never left the U.S. when (inspired by a "Pancakes of Many Nations" promotion during a drunken night at IHOP) they hatch a plan to circle the world, starting in China, which has just opened to tourists. From the moment of arrival, they're out of their depth, perpetually hungry, foolish, and paranoid from relentless observation. Claire, who carries the complete works of Nietzsche "like a Gideon Bible," seems more capable than Susy until encounters with military police, hallucinatory fevers, and a frantic escape from a squalid hospital expose cracks in her psyche that utterly derail their plans. Rich with insight, dead-on dialogue, and canny characterization, Gilman's personal tale nails that cataclysmic collision of idealism and reality that so often characterizes young adulthood. Be prepared to wolf down the final hundred pages in one sitting. --Mari Malcolm


"[A] standout travel memoir...Gilman's descriptions of their trials and tribulations crackle with wit." (Booklist )

"Youthfully upbeat, Gilman delivers an entertaining memoir...offering the full wallop of disorienting, in-the-moment, transformative travel adventures." (Publishers Weekly )

"[An] ambitious and intimate coming-of-age memoir." (Kirkus )

"With her trademark intelligent, irreverent voice Gilman takes us on a journey that feels terrifyingly real, immediate and life-threatening. The woman is no less than a godsend to a reading world that has become too used to lies, half-truth and spin." (Alexandra Fuller ) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (March 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446578924
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446578929
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (184 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #935,574 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Susan Jane Gilman, a native New York writer known for combining sharp wit with lyrical pathos, is the bestselling author of three nonfiction books: "Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven," "Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress" and "Kiss My Tiara." Her first novel, "The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street" debuts on June 10, 2014. Its story -- of a crippled young immigrant's struggle to become a titan in the American ice cream industry over the course of the 20th century -- required extensive research into both history and ice cream. This included a stint working at a Carvel ice Cream store on Long Island. ("How I suffered for my art," Gilman says wryly).

She has written for the New York Times, the L.A. Times, Real Simple, and Ms. magazine among others, been a contributor to NPR's "All Things Considered," and won literary awards for her journalism and short fiction.

Although she currently resides primarily in Switzerland with her husband, the Amazing Bob, her heart and her feet are never far from her homeland.

Customer Reviews

Part travelogue, part coming-of-age story, part memoir, this book is at once entertaining, revealing and insightful.
Daffy Du
I read Susan Jane Gilman's other books and loved them, so when I saw Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven being offered through the Vine program, I grabbed it.
Norma Lehmeierhartie
Couple this with significant problems that surface with Claire takes the story from an "innocents abroad" theme to a truly gripping tale.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

94 of 102 people found the following review helpful By korova on January 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I almost stopped reading this book after the first couple of chapters. Boy, am I glad I kept going! Susan Jane Gilman has written a memoir that begins in deceptively languid fashion but ends in an explosion of surreal and shocking events.

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven starts off very slowly. If you're not paying close attention to what's going on, as I was not, the book seems like yet another "clueless recent college graduate with backpack" travel journal. Even the book's title is somewhat misleading; it made me expect a cobbled together collection of exaggerated, drunken adventures in developing countries.

I was wrong, very wrong.

Small, seemingly insignificant, things begin happening to Gilman and her traveling partner. As patterns emerge, the story begins to take on threatening, even malevolent, overtones and the pace quickens. What began as two innocent and idealistic girls taking an around-the-world trip turns into an uncontrolled descent into chaos, fear, and personal destruction.

Sure, this all sounds like a plot for a bad Roger Corman horror movie--especially that last bit!--but Gilman manages to make everything unfold in a mesmerizing yet believable manner. She writes in an engaging, flowing style that truly brings the story to life. Gilman's experience as a journalist has given her a talent for capturing key details of people and places, so that even the parts of the book that may have been embellished don't feel out of place or totally implausible.

The story also benefits from twenty years of hindsight. Gilman occasionally breaks away from the main narrative to comment on the things she thought and did at the time of the story, when she was twenty-one.
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49 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Daffy Du VINE VOICE on February 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
What happens when two recent female college graduates decide to circumnavigate the world on a shoestring in 1986, starting in the tourism-challenged People's Republic of China? Let's just say that "Innocents Abroad" doesn't begin to describe it.

Gilman and her pseudonymous companion, Claire, are arm's-length friends when they embark on the adventure of a lifetime, inspired by the map on an IHOP place mat. At some point in our lives, each of has probably pursued a brash dream with someone we hardly knew, but in Gilman and Claire's case, the consequences surpass anything they and their apprehensive families could have imagined. Beyond their naivete and the sheer foreignness of the environment the two young women plunge into, at 21, Gilman increasingly finds herself forced to deal with her friend's rapid descent into psychosis (which, she points out in the afterword, may have been the product of antimalarial medication). Along the way, she encounters some unforgettable characters: a generous, English-speaking Chinese man who befriends them in the hope that they will help him defect; a clueless, lumbering German misfit; a free-spirited American mother and her two rambunctious sons; a Chinese waitress who prepares Western food for homesick backpackers; a German hunk whose kindness matches his considerable romantic appeal; and a Canadian nurse who rallies to her aid at her time of greatest need.

As compelling as the people she meets is her take on the country itself. The picture she paints of 1980s post-Kissinger China is rich and textured, frequently rendered with delicious irony and dark humor. The bravado with which she handles various encounters with Chinese culture, cuisine and government authorities is both unnerving and astonishing.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Mary G. Longorio VINE VOICE on March 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Beware of making travel plans, what to do after college plans, any kind of plans based on the placemats at the International House of Pancakes. One night in 1986, fueled by post graduate giddiness and a large amount of alcohol Susan Jane Gilman and friend Claire decide to circle the globe, starting with China (newly opened to any type of tourist activity), one of the sites on IHOP's placemat. Making sure they have the necessities...the complete works of Nietzsche, an astrology love guide, endless optimism and visions of hostel travel the two embark on a romp that quickly goes awry. Were it not for the peril of venturing into areas of China closed to foreigners, the lack of funds, constant hunger, the threat of arrest and a general lack of awareness of the seriousness of their situation this might be a fun trip. Gilman manages to tell the story with wit and no small amount of hubris. If I wasn't so irritated by her devil-may-care attitude I might have enjoyed it more. Well written with great dialog and a keen eye for detail , but this book really rubbed me wrong even knowing it all ended well.
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40 of 51 people found the following review helpful By LA VINE VOICE on February 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Two well-educated, intelligent young women decide in a moment of naivete and foolishness to travel to China together in the 1980s. They struggle in the communist country with language, food, hygiene, and other things we take for granted in the United States.

The author's friend at first seems a bit kooky but gradually becomes totally separated from reality. In other words, she loses her mind and becomes a danger to herself and others. The goal then becomes how to get her friend back to United States before anything too terrible can happen to her.

Although this sounds grim and depressing, Gilman has written it in the style of Our Hearts Were Young and Gay. It is at times hysterically funny, and I often read passages out loud so my partner could understand why I was laughing.

This is a wonderful book that proves that most people are decent and sweet. I can absolutely see it being made into a film.
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