Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman

Flap copy from paperback:
"In 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 help from unexpected friends--the two travelers found their way out of a Chinese heart of darkness. "

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!

For more info, check out Susan Jane Gilman's blog.


Book Dilettante said...

Excellent review. I still couldn't get over how naive both girls were in their travels! Kept shaking my head as I read the book.

Susan Jane Gilman said...

Wow. Thank you for such a glowing review. I am so touched and pleased that you loved "Undress Me..." (I'm going to have to forward your link to my dad).

And yes, our naivete in China really was stunning.

I'd like to ask all readers to contact me once they've read "Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven" and answer a question: Did you see the ending coming? Was it predictable?

It's a true story, but I wonder, as a writer, how others who didn't live through it experience it on the page. Let me know. I'd love to hear from everyone!

You can contact me through my website, http://www.susanjanegilman.com

-- and let me know if you have any questions, too.

Thanks so much for your interest. Read on!

Anonymous said...

I love this title so much! I've heard loads of good things about this book, and I can't wait to read it.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I really enjoyed this one too.