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Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven Hardcover – International Edition, March 24, 2009
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Read the first chapter of Susan Jane Gilman's hilarious memoir, Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven [PDF].
More About the Author
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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a book for travelers, especially first-time travelers. As far as preparations and planning for travel, Susan and Claire made just about every mistake possible. Read morePublished 13 days ago by Ron K
What else is there to say? A true, true story. It reads like fiction: suspenseful and actually terrifying in many ways. Absolutely brilliant!Published 29 days ago by Christine Hartness
I was captured by the writers engaging style. If you like to read about faraway lands from an American girls perspective, you will enjoy this story. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Valerie M. Moore
A fantastic novel about two girls, both recent graduates of Brown University in the mid 1980's, who travel to China. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Lauren Miller
This book was very entertaining. It is adventurous, exciting, funny and interesting. You won't want to put it down.Published 2 months ago by leslie t perez
An amazing read from a great writer. The author has an amazing way with words. I can also relate to the story as I briefly lived in Beijing. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Debbie Renaud-Li
In 1986, two young women embark on an around-the-world trip starting in Communist China. Their hair-raising experiences and substandard accommodations are an eye-opener to all... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Patricia I. Raimondo