Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

3.9 61
by Susan Jane Gilman
     
 

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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

Overview

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 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.

Editorial Reviews

Booklist
On UNDRESS ME IN THE TEMPLE OF HEAVEN:
"[A] standout travel memoir...Gilman's descriptions of their trials and tribulations crackle with wit."
Alexandra Fuller
"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."
From the Publisher
On UNDRESS ME IN THE TEMPLE OF HEAVEN:
"[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

Publishers Weekly

Youthfully upbeat, Gilman (Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress) delivers an entertaining memoir of her ill-starred attempt to circumnavigate the globe after college graduation in 1986. Eager to embark on life but unsure exactly how to do it, the author, a New Yorker, and her fair-haired Connecticut trust-fund friend, Claire, both graduates from Brown, resolved to backpack around the world for a year and become heroines in their own epic stories. Starting in Hong Kong, the two naïve 21-year-olds, armed with Linda Goodman's Love Signs, volumes of Nietzsche and a year's supply of tampons, ran into shoals fairly immediately, freaked out by fleabag hotels, vermin, importunate fellow travelers and the debilitating effects of illness, homesickness and the sole company of each other. As they roughed it through Communist China, Claire grew increasingly paranoid and delusional, eventually bolting on a bizarre bus trip that got her picked up by the police. Gilman's amusing journey focuses tightly on these first shaky seven weeks, offering the full wallop of disorienting, in-the-moment, transformative travel adventures. (Mar.)

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Library Journal

Part travelog, part mystery, Gilman's latest memoir-after the best-selling Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress-begins in 1986 with the author and a friend studying a placemat at IHOP titled "Pancakes of Many Nations." With more hubris than travel experience, these freshly minted Brown graduates decided to embark on a yearlong, around-the-world backpacking trip, beginning in China. Though they had wonderful experiences, a painful secret led to their undoing. Gilman's work will appeal to those who went in search of an "authentic travel experience" and got more than they bargained for. [See Prepub Alert, LJ11/15/08.]
—Elizabeth Brinkley

Kirkus Reviews
Bestselling memoirist Gilman (Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, 2005, etc.) recalls ill-fated post-collegiate travels. The author's around-the-world backpacking trip began in September 1986 with a perilous nosedive into Hong Kong's international airport that prompted Gilman to reflect on her motives. After growing up poor in inner-city New York, she entered Brown University on a scholarship. When she and her friend Claire Van Houten (a pseudonym) set off to circle the globe following graduation, her motivation was more desire to emulate confident, well-heeled Claire than any personal sense of adventure. The two were eager to undertake rugged exploration in the footsteps of their admired predecessors from Odysseus to Jack Kerouac, "except with lip gloss." They vowed to travel like locals rather than tourists, and the bulk of the book humorously describes their encounters with both squalor and beauty. They ventured headlong into the People's Republic of China, about which they, and the pre-Internet world at large, had little knowledge. Hindsight allows the author to draw comparisons between her journey into adulthood and the growing pains of the newly opened communist nation. Fans of her previous work will enjoy Gilman's latest, but there's little in the way of a story until the final hundred pages, during which the author switches to present tense and her account becomes plot-driven. The tense shift is abrupt, but nothing about the plot trigger-Claire falls ill and has to return home-will come as a surprise, given the heavy-handed clues that have been dropped in advance. A flawed but ambitious and intimate coming-of-age memoir. Author tour to New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, SanFrancisco, Portland, Ore., Seattle

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780446696937
Publisher:
Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
02/08/2010
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
113,686
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are saying about this

Alexandra Fuller
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.

Meet the Author

Susan Jane Gilman is the author of Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dressand Kiss My Tiara. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan, and has written commentary for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and Ms. magazine, among others. Her fiction and essays have received several literary awards. Though she lives in Geneva, Switzerland, she remains, eternally, a child of New York.

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Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 61 reviews.
iluvvideo More than 1 year ago
An unusual approach to a travel story. I thought this would be an easy read chronicling the adventures of two novice travelers through China; at the time a country newly opened to outside travel. Instead I got that AND a story of one traveler's descent into mental illness. Now this would be trouble for an experienced traveler, let alone a newbie. Then add to it the language difficulty, the new openness of China to westerners (and the Chinese peoples fascination with these 'odd' characters), and the mysterious workings of the Chinese government. Two young women, recent Brown graduates, meet at an IHOP and plan to forestall the inevitable: jobs, marriage and family, in short the entrance to the 'real world'. The plan is to spend a year traveling around the world, to see the places few travelers (and fewer women travelers) have ever been. No four star hotels or western comforts allowed. First to Hong Kong, they almost immediately find themselves truly alone in the world, and almost totally unprepared for the challenges ahead. They depend on friends they meet and realize how truly pampered they lives have been compared to what lies ahead. All they can depend on is each other (through homesickness, illness, and the myriad daily problems of travel in a strange land). The closeness they feel is replaced by the knowledge of how very little they know about each other. When one member begins to show signs of the pressure; physical illness (and a trip to the Chinese hospital), moodiness and sudden need to 'be alone' seem to be part of the simple ups and downs of life. Or are they? With a great sense of humor, and a quirky narrative style Susan Gilman invites us along on this amazing journey of self discovery. There are no 'heroes'. There are no 'villains'. Just two young people starting on life's journey. I'm glad I was able to take the trip! (
mkpetersonMP More than 1 year ago
This book is so whip-smart funny, adventurous, insightful and readable, I'm shocked it didn't ride the best-seller lists for weeks. I'm on my second read and know what's going to happen, but I'm still riding the thrill.
ADH65 More than 1 year ago
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? Postscript: If you're looking for a thoughtful and beautifully written travel memoir, also authored by a young college grad in China, please instead consider Peter Hessler's "River Town". For your hard-earned $20, I guarantee this book is a more worthy selection.
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