Read Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman Online


They were young, brilliant, and bold. They set out to conquer the world. But the world had other plans for them.Bestselling author Susan Jane Gilman's new memoir is a hilarious and harrowing journey, a modern heart of darkness filled with Communist operatives, backpackers, and pancakes. In 1986, fresh out of college, Gilman and her friend Claire yearned to do something darThey were young, brilliant, and bold. They set out to conquer the world. But the world had other plans for them.Bestselling author Susan Jane Gilman's new memoir is a hilarious and harrowing journey, a modern heart of darkness filled with Communist operatives, backpackers, and pancakes. In 1986, fresh out of college, Gilman and her friend Claire yearned to do something daring and original that did not involve getting a job. Inspired by a place mat at the International House of Pancakes, they decided to embark on an ambitious trip around the globe, starting in the People's Republic of China. At that point, China had been open to independent travelers for roughly ten minutes.Armed only with the collected works of Nietzsche, an astrological love guide, and an arsenal of bravado, the two friends plunged into the dusty streets of Shanghai. Unsurprisingly, they quickly found themselves in over their heads. As they ventured off the map deep into Chinese territory, they were stripped of everything familiar and forced to confront their limitations amid culture shock and government surveillance. What began as a journey full of humor, eroticism, and enlightenment grew increasingly sinister-becoming a real-life international thriller that transformed them forever.Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven is a flat-out page-turner, an astonishing true story of hubris and redemption told with Gilman's trademark compassion, lyricism, and wit....

Title : Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780446696937
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 320 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven Reviews

  • K
    2019-04-28 21:28

    I'm not sure -- maybe it's me, but I found this book surprisingly fascinating and powerful.This memoir describes Susan's adventures with her college friend Claire in the mid-1980s, as the two impulsively decide to backpack around the world. Naive and woefully unprepared, they start out in the People's Republic of China which had only recently been opened to foreign travelers. Susan, anticipating a lighthearted journey, finds herself overwhelmed by the stress of being in a foreign country where little English is spoken and the rules are radically different and unpredictable. Determined to actually experience foreign culture and to avoid cushioning themselves in a Westernized bubble, Susan and Clair find themselves in roach-infested cold-water dormitories struggling with the hassles of obtaining food, transportation, and medical care as needed. The time period is quite relevant -- in the 1980s there were no cell phones or internet to facilitate contact with family, get necessary information, or smooth over difficulties. To make matters much worse, Claire's behavior becomes increasingly bizarre and unmanageable.There are good moments, too, though. Susan writes just as engagingly and vividly about some of the highs of her experience and the people she meets. Susan and Claire's chosen traveling style comes at a high price but can also be rewarding. And without overdoing the introspection as many memoirists do, Susan does give the reader some food for thought about the Western romanticizing of poverty and foreign lifestyles, and the unwittingly ironic, condescending and patronizing concept of presuming that you can actually absorb a country's culture simply by engaging in reverse snobbery when it comes to choosing your accommodations, food sources, travel modes, etc.I actually found myself gripped by this narrative. Susan succeeded in making me feel both the highs and lows of what it might be like to be on your own in a foreign country, anticipating sharing responsibilities and joys with a fellow traveler only to slowly discover that she's probably having a nervous breakdown. I don't know whether I can recommend it to everyone, but the story certainly spoke to me even though I've never had, and probably never will have, similar adventures.

  • Andy
    2019-05-25 02:29

    Early in Susan Jane Gilman’s memoir of her ill-fated 1986 trip to China, standing in a filthy Shanghai toilet, Gilman declares to her traveling companion, “We are two young, brilliant Ivy League graduates. If we can’t use a public bathroom in the People’s Republic of China, who the hell can?” Sadly, this episode is all too typical of Gilman’s experiences in China.To be fair, Gilman recounts her story through the eyes of herself as a young, naive college graduate. But I’ve certainly met more perceptive and sympathetic twenty-year-olds. I groaned at the younger Gilman’s cultural observations of life in China, the limits of her worldview defined, apparently, by the boundaries of New York City—all this from an aspiring young writer and an honors graduate of Brown University. (And Gilman is positively eager to discuss her education and ascension from an upbringing she unselfconsciously describes as 'underprivileged'.)I picked up this book after reading some positive reviews—there’s a glowing blurb from Alexandra Fuller on the back cover—but I can only assume that the reviewers were reading an entirely different book. In the introduction, Gilman attests to the authenticity of her story, but what follows is an endless series of thin, clichéd characterizations and petty melodramas, saccharine denouements. And, thoughtfully, Gilman provides all of her non-American characters with ridiculous accents. Germans include “yah” in every sentence, Australians “oi”, and the Chinese never seem to get those R’s or L’s right.Gilman wrote this book over twenty years after the events it portrays, but is this really the best she could come up with? Is it possible to travel 8000 miles around the world and experience nothing much more unique or authentic than could be had from an armchair perusal of Lonely Planet’s guide to China? What a shame.

  • Callie
    2019-05-22 20:03

    A page-turner! Two girls, fresh out of the Ivy League (which the author feels the need to remind you of constantly) decide to take a year and circumnavigate the globe, starting in China. In 1986, China was only just open to tourists, and only in certain areas. While the girls want to do everything in "legit" fashion, to do it the way the locals do, they quickly realize that they are in over their heads. While I spent most of the story feeling a bit irritated towards these naive girls, it was definitely an exciting story, one I couldn't put down until it was finished.

  • Maltaise
    2019-05-21 23:27

    I wanted to like this book-I really did-I love travel stories and memoirs. However part way through the book I found myself almost despising the author. I have never run across such a narcissistic, selfish and self-absorbed author before. What ever made her write this story is incomprehensible. Susie as she is known in the book, gets the idea to hop around the globe off of a placemat at IHOP. Young, inexperienced and looking for adventure armed with The Lonely Planet she heads off to Hong Kong and then into China with her friend Claire. Susie does not hesitate to take advantage and use anyone who will make her trip easier. Given she had never travelled before she is rather shocked at what the world is about. That is why you are traveling. Her partner, either has a mental breakdown or starts to suffer from mental illness along the way. Susie is too self absorbed to realize this and chocks it up to Claire being jealous she has hooked up. The amazing part is that after delivering her friend back to the US she returns to Asia, yet you do not hear one word about the rest of the trip-just a lot of whining about China, foreigners and how hard China was. She really should have stayed home. Travelers like her are why foreigners are not to keen on visitors. I have been to every continent and spent 3 weeks in China years ago. Aside from the fact that there is lots of rice served it is not as bad as she made it seem. It was my first Asian country out of 4 that I have been to. And yes I have had the experience of waking up to a snake in my bed and rats in the rafters. If I wanted my own bed then I should have stayed home.

  • Gail
    2019-05-16 22:16

    One of the reasons I love book clubs is because they push you to read outside your comfort zone, discovering books you never knew existed. Susan Jane Gilman’s “Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven” is such book for me. The true account of Gilman, an accomplished journalist, who set off to tour the world with one of her college classmates, this story is a WILD ride. Namely because the two start their journey in 1986 in China, landing in a country whose borders had been open for “all of ten minutes”. What happens to them leaves you on the edge of your seat (and turning the pages!) but for anyone who’s traveled—especially abroad—this book is full of plenty of reminders of the graces that come with stepping outside your comfort zone and developing camaraderie with fellow travelers you meet along the way.A few favorite lines: “No one ever tells you this,” I said despairingly, waving at the turquoise tiled walls, the bare, hissing light fixture. “All those travel magazines. People with their vacation photos. They just make it look so easy.” I suppose, travel is a bit like the Internet—there’s a protective anonymity to it. Cast into a situation with people you never have to see again and shielded from repercussions, you turn brazenly candid.Lee was thirty-six. If we’d met in the States, we’d have had absolutely no reason to sit together and probably nothing to say. But here? We had the special camaraderie of the displaced, of sad people with suitcases.

  • Jen
    2019-05-23 00:30

    I picked this up from the free book pile at my job. The cover and title led me to believe that I was letting myself in for a self-indulgent remembrance of the author's various sexual escapades while backpacking around the world. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was nothing of the sort, but a rather more chilling and compelling tale. It was a quick read, and definitely a page-turner in the second half.

  • Lisa
    2019-04-26 23:30

    This was goooood. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, and it kept building and building. At the beginning the author writes, 'this is what happened, God knows I could never have made this up'. I thought, well, just how crazy is this story? Let me say this: it lived up. I usually check books out of the lib, but I actually shelled out the cash for this one. I'm glad I did, b/c I know I'll end up reading it again. I plan on forcing it on my poor over-worked friend the next time I see her because I know she'll love it. Jenny, find the time, you must!

  • Shantiwallah
    2019-04-28 20:11

    Not judging the book by its title, which might lead you to believe it is quite a sexy book (it’s not), I really just expected this to be another backpacker’s account of her jaunt through Asia. As someone who, like many others, has “done the jaunt” herself, I found a lot to relate to so, excuse me as I write this review from a very personal viewpoint. The book is set in China in the mid-eighties, a couple of years before my own first, brief encounter with mainland China. Susan Gilman and her not-very-well-known friend, Claire Van Houten hatched a plan on the back of a paper placemat while out late one night of conquering the world on a trans-planetary trip. They decided to start in China and the descriptions Gilman writes of encounters with bureaucracy, once grand but now falling apart ships and other transport barely held together with spot welding, hotel and travel agent staff who tow the party line as far as only presenting what was allowed to be presented…and no more, not to mention other backpackers, is spot on. Anyone who travelled to China in the late 1980s right up to the mid-late 1990s will relate to this book on some level and probably really enjoy it for the nostalgia factor. Places too, ring true from freakishly tiny and sparse, swimming pool tile-lined guesthouse rooms in Chunking Mansions, a backpacker icon that is still existing in that ‘state’ as far as I know. If you haven’t been there or read the book yet, I don’t want to give anything more away as her expectations versus reality play-by-play about the place is brilliant. And this is just the first part of the journey.Yangshuo is another centre of the backpacking world in China and, in those days, was one of the few places foreigners could go and decompress from all the experiences had during travel in China. To have been struggling, quite out of your depth, with renegade bus drivers, unknown animal parts served up in soup, and language barriers for weeks on end then, finally coming upon the then little village of Yangshuo with its rows of cafés serving Western-style food from English, French, and German menus just seemed like a godsend. I really liked how Gilman placed their visit to Yangshuo in the story as sort of the beginning of the end as that is exactly how the place feels to many who’ve travelled there. You get a sense of having slogged your way round in relative hardship and this is the intrepid backpackers’ reward…banana pancakes all around! Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t just the reminiscing factor that I enjoyed about the book. There is also the storyline of what it is like being with someone you barely know, 24/7, for weeks on end. In this case, the increasingly bizarre relations between Gilman and her friend Claire whilst travelling in a country with a high difficulty rating, as far as backpacking goes, make for an interesting thread that runs throughout.Call me non-imaginative, but I do like books that go back and tie up lose ends. Gilman does this in her Afterwards chapter really well. For readers who haven’t travelled to China, you could easily get a sense that what the book describes is how it still is to travel around the vast country. In some places it really is still like that, but China has been hurtling towards a developed travel infrastructure at an alarming pace. Even 10 years after the book was set, it was sad to my Western nostalgic sensibilities to already see beautiful old temples crumbling or being replaced by white tiled square boxes of buildings. In fact, the first time I went to Shen Zhen on the mainland near Hong Kong in 1989, it was a small village with dirt roads. I remember an old man pulling his cart full of pigs past me. The next time I went there in 1998, it was full of gleaming white sky scrapers. I actually had to check my journal to see that I was indeed thinking of the right place. I was. In 9 years the place had become unrecognisable. Gilman’s modern description of the places her and Claire had been to really expresses the changes that have taken place. Changes that would have to be seen to be believed otherwise.In short, although I had low expectations of the book, I was pleasantly surprised. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in travelling independently in China. And I would strongly recommend this to those who have already participated in the backpacking rituals associated with travel in China. You will be reliving much of that experience!

  • Alexis
    2019-05-10 20:21

    This book was hard to put down! I loved it. It is a memoir about two of my favorite topics...mental health, and travel to China. The author travels to China in the 1980s after college with a friend who basically has a schizophrenic break while they are there. Travel at that time in China was unusual and difficult (it is not portrayed in a very positive light, to be honest, but I found it very interesting to compare to my own observations from traveling there in 2007). But the interpersonal and psychiatric issues that emerged were even more challenging. The author has a really engaging style of writing as well. Witty!

  • Jess
    2019-05-23 22:20

    Aside from reading books, one of my favorite things to do is travel. I could spend most of my time jumping on planes and border hopping, and I would be perfectly content with that. To be honest, I would absolutely love to take a few months and just travel around, go and see the world, and do everything I haven’t had the chance to yet do.Susie Jane Gilman does just that, and in 1986, when most borders were closed to the U.S. during the Cold War. Information was scarce and travel was truly an adventure, without the same luxuries we’re exposed to today.Susie and her friend Claire, freshly minted graduates of Brown University, decide to embark on a world-wide tour, starting with the People’s Republic of China. As the book unfolds, it becomes clear just how little Claire and Susie really do know each other: Claire is a tall blonde from New England with a family that sails and has money. Susie is a Jewish girl from Manhattan who works hard for her money and is used to noise, verbosity, and tall buildings. However, when they both disembark the plane in Hong Kong, they realize they are both strangers in a strange land. While Susie struggles to adapt to a culture that is both welcoming and alienating, Claire becomes more and more unhinged.When the trip moves almost overnight from seeing the Great Wall of China for Susie’s 22nd birthday to Claire’s emergency trip to a rural Chinese hospital, it is then that the reader begins to suspect something darker happening, guised in the form of physical illness. As Gilman writes about trying to take care of a friend who hears voices and is convinced she is being followed, the reader’s sympathy is engaged by the details she provides about her own struggles to adapt. One almost wants to shout at Claire to stop doing whatever she’s doing and let Susie enjoy herself. It is only until later that it becomes remarkably clear how mentally ill Claire has become.One admirable effort on Gilman’s part is her accommodation to try to understand Claire’s point of view. Whenever Gilman writes about her anger with Claire’s mood swings, she pauses to consider what Claire might have been thinking at the same time. There is a sense of witsfulness there, almost guilt, as though Gilman wishes she could have done something that would have made it all better. By the end of the story, it’s clear there is nothing anyone could have done, but one still feel Gilman’s sense of regret. Yet she still somehow manages to incorporate a sense of confusion, frustration, and anger with Claire and with China throughout the book, subtly reminding the reader of how great the language and cultural barriers were in 1986.Ironically, though I was anticipating a book that would detail all of Claire and Susie’s excellent adventures, it wasn’t until Claire began acting out that I really became absorbed with Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven. Juxtaposed with the culture shock both girls experience, it is hard to distinguish how much of it is stems from Claire’s frustration with the lack of access she was used to as a privileged upper class white female and how much was her descent into illness. The scene that stands out and will continue to stand out for me is when Claire disappears in China for a day and completely breaks down.When it is finally revealed what Claire had done and where she had gone, Gilman writes with so much passion and empathy and confusion and concern that it is impossible for all those feelings to not transfer to the reader as well. I felt as though I was in the valley with Claire, watching her wade into the river, less and less coherent and more and more paranoid, and my senses were completely engaged. I wanted to know what was going to happen to Claire, if she was purposely trying to kill herself or if she had become so unhinged that she didn’t even know what she was doing anymore. Claire in her own right becomes a compelling character, almost as though she were a work of fiction rather than flesh and blood. Finding out how Susie reacts and what happens to Claire became imperative and I simply could not put the book down.When I picked up Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, I anticipated a book that would provide much of the same wit and humor that Gilman’s other books do, Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, and Kiss My Tiara. What I didn’t expect was the note of seriousness her book would take on and how entrancing her writing would be. Granted, there were some moments that aspired to be more literary and failed, but there were so many others that so firmly entrenched me in the fields and mountains of China, that it far outweighed the few overwritten sentences.I put the book down, feeling as though I too needed to travel to China, to work in the fields along rice workers, and befriend people I would never speak to normally, except having the commonality of being an explorer is what links us. Needless to say, this work of nonfiction more than holds its own in the canon of travel literature. It simultaneously managed to remind me of all the uncertainty of travel while rekindling all the adventure and wonder and magic.

  • Mo
    2019-05-21 19:06

    I have some conflicted feelings about this book.To start: the writing is beautiful. Gilman not only gives an account of visiting the other side of the world, she shares the experience of being there in 1986, just after China opened its borders to independent travelers. After graduation, Gilman and a friend pack malaria pills, water purifiers, picky appetites, and some naivety, and hop on a plane to Hong Kong. The goal? Travel around the world. Stop 1: China. Gilman describes a route that most people would not take, mixing in their experience with local culture and her encounters with the surprisingly large (but also small) backpacking community. It's almost shocking to read about how they travel now, not just post-9/11 - something that Gilman does address briefly - but the decisions they make that I can't imagine choosing (even in my early 20s).There is also a lot of bat**** crazy in this book.And the crazy is what kept me reading, because for most of the memoir, I found Gilman's friend - and at times, Gilman herself - aggravating and unlikable.To Gilman's credit, she's the storyteller, and she doesn't sugarcoat the areas where she behaves badly/questionably/etc. And when I think about it, I might not have continued reading without that element of realness (or, if I felt I was getting a very sanitized account). I really want to write this review without spoilers, so I won't go into more detail. But that aggravation did at least keep me reading, if only from the desire to see if/how the women changed. So at the end of the day... fantastic writing style, pretty imagery, and a unique story/setting... but difficult to read because at times, Gilman and her friend just make me want to walk away.

  • Genene Murphy
    2019-05-10 00:23

    This is easy to pick up. You'll vicariously embark on the globe-trotting adventure Gilman prepares to tell. And you'll quickly learn that there are two stories: one you thought you knew and one you couldn't predict. That's what gives this gem character, apart from travel memoirs that read like travel magazine essays rehashed into book deals. Here's the deal: Gilman and her college friend craft a plan at Denny's to travel the world. They first land in Hong Kong. Postcards are sent. Collect calls are made. Here's the wrinkle: one traveler is perhaps schizophrenic and the other is unaware. Plans are diverted. Police are called. Set in China, the combination of story lines adds depth. While you may think that Gilman is slow to figure out what's going on, you'll appreciate that her storytelling consistently reflects her state-of-mind at the time. And with that, you'll become both friend and voyeur ... wanting desperately to inform something, anything and yet only able to watch it unfold. What happened to Jonny? And where is Claire? What does she think of this telling? And, at some point, will we know? This is what lingers ... a compelling and thought-provoking read.

  • Susan Peterson
    2019-04-24 20:28

    I was surprised how much I liked this book. The cover and title suggest something that's not really up my alley, but this really is a case where you can't judge a book by its cover. The protagonist (the author, as this is autobiographical) is a young woman just our of an ivy league college. She and a casual friend decide to backpack around the world before settling down. Their first stop is China shortly after it was opened to Westerners. Before long the author's companion begins acting strangely, disappearing to do secret work and claiming to be followed by enemy agents.Having spent some time in Bolivia and Japan when I was the age the author was in the story, I can attest to the fact that a complete change in language, food, sanitary facilities, and company can do strange things to a person's head. Once you've operated that far outside your comfort zone, you will never see your comfort zone quite the same way ever again. The author captures this unique kind of stress brilliantly. The book is funny, captivating, and quietly insightful.

  • Tatiana
    2019-04-27 01:11

    So good reading people, I have a confession to make: I TOTALLY judge books by their covers! That said the cover of this book does not do it justice at all-- I´ve had this book for over a year and never thought to read it. How did it get in my possession you ask? Surely you understand, I have this thing, it´s called an obsession--but not any kind of obsession, it´s an obsession with books, especially the free kind. If unchecked I´d collect books like your g-ma´s pristine, unused, plastic covered, formal living room furniture collects dust. Over a year ago, a lady who used to work as a book reviewer just dumped a ton of books in the apt bldg laundry room (the common area for all reusable things no longer desired). I took roughly half of that ton to my apt. Some were good additions, some not so much; this one was left unread.I quickly grabbed this book outof my storage unit in hopes of having something to read on the plane or during down time while in Brazil, and I´m really glad I did.The main charaters aren´t always likeable, in fact they aren´t for most of the book, but what was important for me is reading this made mefeel something. I was invested enough in the characters and their journey around the world that I could be angry or thoroughly annoyed by their actions, attitudes...or inaction.They are, like many in the past 2 generations, entitled, adventurous and woefully unaware of their privilege (despite thinking the opposite.) I aplaud the author for her reflexiveness and ability to critique her own behavior (in hindsight of course) while recognizing she has the license to present herself however she pleases. This book was a pleasant surprise because not only did I find that I identified with it in many ways, the boldness,free-spiritedness, the occasional fear, the sense of adventure and wanting to take the road less traveled, the wanderlust in these two recent( by recent i mean 1986) college grads who graduated without having secured employment.If nothing else it causes me to remember my own travel adventures, how much being on my own has allowed me to grow, and reminded me of all the places I wanted to see before life got real and bills needed to be paid.

  • Jessie Weaver
    2019-05-07 02:07

    Susan Gilman notes in the introduction to her memoir Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven that the events she writes about are too strange not to be true. Heed that as a warning.Undress Me begins as a safe travel memoir, chronicling Susie and her college friend Claire's travels to a newly opened China in the 80s. They've just graduated from Brown, don't know what to do with their lives, and decide in an IHOP to travel the globe. Susie is a tough girl from NYC; Claire, her pampered friend from Connecticut, insists on telling the Chinese her father is 'an important businessman in America.' The descriptions of Hong Kong and China in the 80s are fascinating; Susie and Claire's trip to a rural village that has never seen an American enthralling.As the book progresses, however, this memoir turns into a recounting of the two girls' states of mind more than describing their travels. Claire becomes increasingly paranoid, sick, and strange. From about the middle of the novel on, Claire steals the show as the central focus of the book. While her story is interesting, I was still kind of yearning for the simple travel memoir I set out to read.Gilman's language is precise and lovely, and as long as you approach this novel as what it is - a tale of two friends more than a tale of travels in China - I think it could be a highly satisfying and intriguing read.

  • Colleen
    2019-04-25 00:24

    Now this is what a travel memoir should be- funny, poignant, and ultimately redemptive. Gilman's account of her travels through China are beautifully drawn. From her initial crisis of homesickness through her desperation to find something familiar in an alien environment, Gilman is painfully truthful and so her story resonates. Though today's mature reader will immediately see the warning signs in Claire's behavior, Gilman's narative voice is strong enough to carry the reader along, to make you view the story through her younger, infinitely more naive eyes. This book captures a snapshot of a China that no longer exists, and gently mocks a mindset that equates "true adventure" with sometimes life-threatening hardship. This trip had an enormous effect on Gilman, on her life and world view, and she shares those revelations with an admirable honesty and modesty. Truly a wonderful travel memoir- a must read 5 star adventure!

  • Melissa
    2019-04-26 01:11

    Oh my. I thought this was going to be funny. It's not very funny. It's very well written, but not funny. What do you do when you're in China & your traveling companion starts manifesting the symptoms of either schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder? You freak out. Having been through something like this before (though not in China, thank god), I cringed through the whole thing. It's a testament to Gilman's writing that I wanted to finish this.

  • Helen
    2019-05-06 19:32

    The whole time I was reading this book, I kept thinking it was leading into something really dramatic! But as I finished each chapter I was disappointed. After the final chapter I was like what the %&*[email protected] !!!! This book was so not worth my time!

  • Sheena Buccola
    2019-05-11 23:13

    I love memoirs and this one was great! It was a shocking story about traveling through the People’s Republic of China during the 80s and how unprepared these two girls were for what was ahead.

  • Derek
    2019-05-09 23:22

    Might I suggest an alternate title: Ugly American? The behavior on display here exemplifies every stereotype foreigners have about US citizens traveling abroad: they're rude, selfish, pushy, judgmental, and lazy. They take without giving and constantly complain about every inconvenience while possessing little empathy for the people around them. Everything is dirty, the food is disgusting, the people are blanks that move around without purpose. It did not take long for Susan to establish herself as a loathsome, narcissistic fool wallowing in the obvious irony that an ivy-league graduate actually knows nothing at all. The narrative makes these abrupt stops to go into these passages of fine description, but it's of the wrong things like the weather or an attractive Australian young man. The writing is promising for a 20-year-old, but the release date suggests this was written much later in her life. Is this who you are, Susan? Did you write this when you were in your early 20s and sit on it until your 40s? Did you think at any point in there you might want to update it, revise it, do some research into the time period or the culture?I've been to China. I say this not to correct her, but because I want to make it clear I went into this wanting to see a familiar place through new eyes, and I spent it with a spoiled child who'd rather sit in her hotel room than explore the richness around her. I've discovered that the hotel I reserved was a dive, panicked in my room when I realized what I had gotten myself into, lay in bed after eating the wrong thing, but it doesn't automatically make for a good story. There are ridiculous number of travel blogs on the internet these days, a number of them quite good. If you're going to publish a book that essentially does the same thing, I would expect it would do something different. That it's set a few decades ago, I suppose, is something, but there's almost nothing to indicate that events are happening in 1986 as opposed to the last few years. Knowing it was written by someone with publications to her name and a couple of decades of experience, I'm just bewildered. I put this book down having learned nothing about China or her trip other than she didn't have fun and it was way beyond her as a traveler. Nonfiction is a great tool not to tell an anecdotal experience, but to share the growth that came out of a moment. It's not 22-year-old Susan who should be telling this story, but a grown woman who looks back on her younger years and shows us how it changed her as a person. The perspective here seems only minutes after it happened by someone who still doesn't know what any of it means.Not to mention, it's just boring. At one point she remarks to her friend while surrounded by a curious Chinese crowd: "Boy...I wish I found us nearly as fascinating as they do." Me, too.

  • thereadytraveller
    2019-05-22 20:30

    Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven is a cautionary tale of how not all backpacking trips end up as something you want to tell all your friends about when you get back home. Taking place in the mid 1980's on the cusp of mainland China opening up to independent travel, Gilman writes of the naivety of youth as she and one of her friends from University head out on a one-year trip round the world. However, things quickly begin to unravel as they experience a culture shock well beyond anything of their imaginings.Written from notes Gilman took during her travels, Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven tells a story of two straight-A students fresh out of college/university who set off to conquer the world as "travellers, not pampered little tourists". Their enthralling journey they took place in a time when Lonely Planet was an unknown travel guidebook company, no regular commercial flights existed for independent travellers to China and communism was still rampant but mostly contained behind the iron curtain.From its opening quotes by Friedrich Nietzsche and another from the 913-page astrology guide Gilman lugs around, Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven begins as a stock standard backpacking travelogue. Gilman does a great job of initially detailing the day to day realities of travelling through China in a non-curated fashion. The open latrines and crowds of people staring at their every move. The blisters and bronchial infections from pollution and spitting. The lack of drinking water and inability to find anything to please the Western palate.As their journey progresses, however, Gilman is forced to deal with her travelling companion's increasing erratic and unstable behaviour. As the book masterfully builds suspense, we are taken along a frightening journey, thankful only that it something that we, hopefully, will never have to endure.Gilman's excellent writing of their ill-fated journey quickly draws you in, and by book end leaves your emotions feeling like they've been tossed about like a good chow mein in the wok of life. As the book hurtles towards its final, unknown destination, it will be sure to have you reading into the middle of the night to see just how everything pans out. Full Review Here

  • The Cyber Hermit
    2019-05-21 19:28

    I had high hopes for this book considering the subject matter - two novice tourists in mainland China just after the gates had begun to be open to foreigners. But this was not that book.While the author does take pains to note that she was young and immature, it comes across more as a way to excuse the behavior she's writing about rather than a real understanding of who she was then. She goes to great pains to point out the differences between her and her travel companion (Companion is rich, sophisticated, beautiful and urbane while the author is...not, according to the author) and it comes across like sour grapes. Rather than work to embrace the new culture in which they *willingly* landed themselves, Gilman first calls home in a series of passive-aggressive attempts to get one of her family members to tell her it's okay to bail and return to America. Then, once she realizes she is stuck, she ignores the ever-increasing signs of her travel companion's instability for...I'm not even really sure why; apparently, it worked for her at the time.The author spends too much time navel-gazing and wondering "what if". She spends pages detailing what she *thinks* might have happened when her friend wasn't in her line of sight and all the conversations and unsavory characters said friend *might* have run into before belly flopping into a excruiatingly detailed explanation of how she might feel about all these imaginary encounters. While I can understand the author might not have been equipped to deal with a heretofore unknown serious mental illness at a young age, I would think the fact that your friend - who you will be stuck with in close quarters for a year - going on and on about being followed by the PLO and other nefarious agenies, along with the fact that the guy who cleans her father's boat is really a Mossad agent might have been a big honkin' clue that it was time to go no matter what. I would agree with other readers that the author comes off, ultimately, as fairly unlikeable and self-absorbed. Unfortunately, that makes the book read like more of a superficial story of hijinks in China versus the story of a young woman growing and maturing under fantastic and trying situations (and in a fantastic country) that it could have been.

  • Tressa
    2019-04-26 22:30

    Hey, let's be Odysseus. Let's be Byron. Let's be Don Quixote, Huck Finn, and Jack Kerouac all rolled into one—except with lip gloss."In 1986 before home computers and email were commonplace, before even first graders had cell phones stuffed into their backpacks, two smart but naive Ivy League graduates planned a trip around the world, their itinerary inspired by the “Pancakes of Many Nations” paper placemat at the local IHOP. Susan Jane Gilman and “Claire van Houten,” more acquaintances than good friends, would start their adventure in Hong Kong, and from there travel on to China, India, Bali, and Thailand. They would be gone for a one year, right about the time when Susie's student loans came due.But like most pampered Americans who have never traveled outside of their comfort zones, Susie and Claire find themselves immersed in a culture of strange food and unreliable transportation, where a phone call home might take two hours to patch through, and the lack of hot showers, clean sheets, and private toilets have them second-guessing those hasty, hangover-induced vacation plans.When Claire begins hearing voices and thinks they’re being shadowed by middle eastern terrorists because her father is a “very important business man,” Susie slowly realizes that Claire is not acting the prima donna but slowly losing touch with reality, and so begins the logistical nightmare of getting her back home.By chance Susie meets a woman named Sandy in the hotel lobby. Sandy, a proud Canadian who took a hiatus from her nursing career to teach English to the natives, takes on the job of the girls' “fixer,” reminding me of Mr. Wolf in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction—“That’s thirty minutes away. I’ll be there in ten.” With Sandy’s aid and just enough Valium to sedate Claire until they are stateside, Susie just might get out of the country with her own sanity intact.Though the girls come off as Ugly Americans at times, Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven is a page-turner of a satisfying tale, even for those like me who just think they don't like travelogues.

  • Lisa Loder
    2019-05-11 19:32

    I like books with strong women characters or those who pretend to be strong and have taken a chance in the unknown. Since I did a 3 mnth backpacking trip to Europe and eastern parts in early 1970's, I have always liked to read about other folks who set out with the notion that it will be easy:) This book opened a whole new venture into a country I never went to, China, which I suspected for years is complicated, scary and somewhere way behind the rest of the world. It takes place in the 1980's when two female classmates graduate from Brown U. They are from very different backgrounds but decide to take off on a whirl wind backpacking trip for a year. They start in newly "opened" Communist China. Susan jane Gilman has a wonderful sense of humor and the laughs are on every page in spite of the harsh and sometimes bizzare things they encounter. Life becomes a struggle to find a clean room, good shower, food that can be swallowed and basic toilet conditions. The list of characters they meet along the way are fun and endearing and everyone has known at least one of them. Some may say they are stereotypes but I enjoyed them nonetheless. Anyone who has backpacked during the post college years with the romantic notions will appreciate this story. It is not a novel!!! A true gritty and sometimes frightening adventure all the more complicated by the strange behavior of her traveling companion who has a meltdown. A great summer read and page turner. While critical of Chinese Communist bureaucracy, which we all witnessed during last year's Olympics, she does appreciate the warmth and kindness of the Chinese people.

  • Alicia
    2019-05-12 00:04

    This book started out without much promise. Two recent Ivy League graduates going off on an adventure backpacking around the world, deliberately taking the road less traveled in order to 'really experience' their ordeal. Gilman was tongue in cheek deprecating of herself and her friend "Claire," but I wasn't fooled. I knew I would think both of them were silly twats. And I was mostly right. They kind of were. But I did take great pleasure in reading the book, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. It wasn't the aspect of it as a travelogue to a country I'm going to, or interesting insight into the growth and development of a empowered woman, no, what kept me turning the pages was the hopes of seeing "Claire" crash and burn in the rural bckwaters of China as she had a complete and total nervous breakdown. I had been expecting it, as the back covers touts such a predicament for the two women, but really, it makes the story. If not for Claire's slip from sanity, I don't think I would have enjoyed the book. If she hadn't slipped so completely, (thinking the CIA FBI and Mossad were spying on her in China and then slipping into a river naked to escape their broadcasts) I don't think I would have gotten all the way through it. So if you really want to read a book about self-exploration and female empowerment and adventure in the rurals of China, go read something else. If you want to see a rich little snot crash and burn, I highly recommend this book.

  • Amy
    2019-04-29 00:18

    Well-written, entertaining, and quick to read, while still providing a bit of insight. Especially interesting if you've been to China in the last decade.Gilman reflects on her backpacking trip to China in 1986 with a fellow recent Brown graduate with brutal honesty and self-awareness (developed, she readily admits, only in retrospect). I think she accurately portrays the mindset of two relatively coddled 22-year-old American college graduates in a strange foreign land. But at the same time, 20 years later, can now see her faults and shortcomings. I think she does a good job of expressing the excitement and wonder (as well as frustration and angst) of international travel, while also weaving in the personal story of mental illness that develops in her travel companion of the course of their 7-8 weeks in China. I think in the end, she has nothing but love and admiration for the Chinese people they meet along the way - even if she doesn't fully appreciate them at the time.I think it took Gilman 20 years to get the perspective on this experience that she needed to make a book out of it. I think it was cathartic for her and helped her work through any lingering feelings of guilt or responsibility for the way things turned out. It was such a quick, entertaining read, it was definitely worth the time.

  • Laurie
    2019-05-10 02:07

    It was an honest book, and easy to read, periodically interesting or amusing. But I have to say, I truly disliked both of them throughout, which made the reading experience a bit uncomfortable. Notwithstanding Susie's disarming self-deprecation, and her occasional insights, the degree of their ignorance and arrogance was just horrifying. I understand that she recognized it even then, and certainly in retrospect; it was not for nothing that she included her recollection of the black man ranting about how only the white man would create the field of anthropology, in order to study the “interesting” habits of “less-advanced” races and nationalities. But, the reading experience was an ambivalent one. It is true that I, too, left America entirely ignorant about the places I went to, and (like Blanch Dubois, insanely) relied on the kindness of strangers. The difference is, I wasn't setting out as an intrepid traveler; I was just a depressed lost soul. That doesn't excuse my willful ignorance. It just makes me (the young me) sort of pathetic.

  • Jeannette
    2019-05-12 19:28

    Hey Jeannette D: I finally read a book where the story takes place completely in China. Go me! LOL!I've never wanted to visit China and this book pretty much sealed the deal for me. Sorry, Natalie! I won't be needing your guest room. But keep posting pictures. I do love to see them :)

  • Louise
    2019-04-29 02:29

    Story Description:Grand Central Publishing|February 8, 2010|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-446-69693-7In 1986, Susan Jane Gilman and a classmate embarked on a bold trek around the globe starting in the People’s Republic of China. At that point, China had been open to independent backpackers for roughly ten minutes. Armed only with the collected works of Nietzsche and Linda Goodman’s Love Signs, the two friends plunged into the dusty streets of Shanghai. Unsurprisingly, they quickly found themselves in over their heads – hungry, disoriented, stripped of everything familiar, and under constant government surveillance. Soon, they began to unravel – one physically, the other psychologically. As their journey became increasingly harrowing, they found themselves facing crises that Susan didn’t think they’d survive. But by summoning strengths she never knew she had – and with the help from unexpected friends – the two travelers found their way out of a Chinese heart of darkness. UNDRESS ME IN THE TEMPLE OF HEAVEN is a flat-out page-turner, an astonishing true story of naivete, friendship, and redemption told with Susan’s trademark compassion and humor. My Review:In 1986, Susan Jane Gilman and Claire Van Houten, both 21-years-old, decide to embark on a journey around the world in a year. After traveling for thirty-one hours, they arrived at Kai Tak Airport in the People’s Republic of China to a cabin full of clapping people. They purchased around-the-world airline tickets which began with a flight from New York to Hong Kong that September. The furthest west Susan had ever been prior to this was to Cleveland. However, they yet had no idea how complicated the world could be, or of their place in it, or just how much trouble they were in for. All their lives they’d both been straight-A students and during this trip didn’t want to pamper themselves at all. No Hilton Hotels, no air conditioned buses or tour guides. They wanted to stay off the beaten path entirely, stay in local place only, eat local food, be totally hard core and authentic and experience the “real” world. Prior to leaving the United States they purchased a budget guidebook, ‘Southeast Asia on a Shoestring’, published by a bunch of hippies calling themselves Lonely Planet. They recommended staying in Hong Kong Kowloon section at a place called ‘Chungking Mansions.’ This was not only a great base for backpackers, they said, but a good source for information about obtaining Chinese visas and arranging transport across the border, so that’s where they decided to go. The place turned out to be a dump, it wasn’t even a hotel but instead a warehouse for transients. Luckily for Susan and Claire, they ran into a Chinese man named Jonnie who spoke very good English. He turned out to be an absolute life-saver for the two women becoming everything to them from confidante, communicator, food expert and anything and everything else they needed. I loved this part of the memoir. Jonnie couldn’t pronounce their names correctly and as a result called Susie, Sushi and Claire, Crair. It was so cute, really to read him communicating with them. They had made a real friend in Jonnie while in China and had a hard time saying good-bye before heading off to Beijing. They had actually caused him to “lose face” in the end but you’ll have to read the story to find out why. I’m not sure I could have done to Jonnie what they did after all he had done for them. However, it takes all kinds to make the world go around. In Beijing, they found the well-known Tiananmen Square to be nothing more than the largest piece of poured concrete they’d ever seen but found other sites they enjoyed immensely. From Beijing they headed to Guilan which took 34 hours! From Guilan to Gunagzhou. That flight was only 55 minutes, a little easier to take. Claire slowly begins to lose her mind during the trip. She thinks people, governments, officials, and others are following them. She becomes prone to these yelling, crazy, totally zoned-out screaming tantrums in public that Susie just doesn’t know what to with or how to help her anymore. She never knows what is going to set her off. Claire has become a Jekyll and Hyde. On the other hand, poor Susie is stricken again and again with various physical ailments like fevers, sick stomachs and most worriedly she is having great difficulty breathing, coughing up hordes and hordes of phlegm. Walking quickly even causes her to stop, bend over with her hands on her knees trying hard to catch her breath. This trip is turning into a nightmare with one of them falling to pieces psychologically and the other physically. Eventually they find their way out of this absolute nightmarish trip they embarked upon and end back up in New York. However, what they had to go through and endure will pop your eyes wide open!UNDRESS ME IN THE TEMPLE OF HEAVEN is terrifyingly real and you’ll come away wondering how you would have survived what Susie and Claire did. This would make a great book for bookclubs as well, there is so much to discuss. I’ll definitely be telling my family and friends about this memoir for sure.

  • Terri Dreismeier
    2019-05-04 02:15

    The book was very well written but not what I was expecting. I am not sure what I was expecting. However, I found the story slow and mundane at times.