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24 February 2010

Book Review: Undress Me In the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman

Title: Undress Me In the Temple of Heaven
Author: Susan Jane Gilman
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: February 8, 2010
Paperback: 320 pages
ISBN: 9780446696937
Genre: Memoir


From the Publisher:

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.

UNDRESS ME IN THE TEMPLE OF HEAVEN is a flat-out page-turner, an astonishing true story of naïveté, friendship, and redemption told with Susan's trademark compassion and humor.

My Review:

This review is going to be formatted differently than my others for several reasons I will make clear throughout, beginning with uttering a statement I never thought I would actually use in a book review. Undress Me In the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman is an absolute must-read. I related to this novel on many different levels, especially the time frame, however, I do believe those younger will gain valuable insight into how the world was prior to recent conveniences that we all take for granted daily. I too lived for a while in a communist country, I was alone and while I did not have an experience such as a travel companion named Claire, I was for quite some time isolated. Calling home was not even an option where I lived. Susan speaks fondly of the locals who gave so much of themselves and I flashed back to every kind person who helped me out all those decades ago. Gilman's travels, while different from my own brought back a flood of memories of the country I was privileged enough to live and travel around, of the peoples and places that will always be in my heart. Gilman's memoir is one that should be read by anyone, whether they have traveled the globe or never left their hometown. I was pleased to note there was a reader's guide at the end of the book, as I believe this would make for an extraordinary book to discuss with others. Faced with her circumstances I wondered if I would have been strong enough to do what she managed to do. Her novel is witty, poetic, sad, and hauntingly beautiful and one that should be read discussed and digested. I thank Gilman for reminding me of the communist bureaucracy, the hurrying to wait, queues, endless tickets and the dizzying array of abacuses. Undress Me In the Temple of Heaven is truly a beautiful piece of literature and I hope everyone will pick up a copy and savour the words, the sights, the sounds, and discuss the events as they unfolded for Susan and Claire.

About the Author:

Susan Jane Gilman is the author of Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress and Kiss My Tiara. She has written commentary for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and Ms. magazine, among others, and her fiction and essays have received several literary awards. Though she has lived most recently in Geneva, Switzerland, and Washington, D.C., she remains, eternally, a child of New York.

Find the Author on:
Her Website
Her Blog
Audio Excerpt

I received a complimentary copy of Undress Me In the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman from Hachette as part of the tour. Receiving a free copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned novel.



Susan Jane Gilman said...

Wow. An "absolute must-read"? I'm gobsmacked. I'm so pleased that my misadventure in China has moved and inspired you. I will have to send this link to my dad...

"Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven" is a true story. I'd be interested to know from readers: did you find the ending surprising or did you see it coming?

Contact me through and let me know! There's also a link there to my humorous travel blog, "A View from A Broad," for those who are interested.

Thanks so much for your interest and for reading.

Amy said...

I've heard some great things about this book. I think I might have to pick it up.

Michelle said...

Wow, great review! I've seen other people reading this, and have read their reviews, and now I want to read it even more.

I'll have to search out a copy. Maybe this would be a good book to consider for my family book club next year. This year's list is all fiction!

Cym Lowell said...

I've added this review link to send to my wife. She is going to love your review and I am certain will be adding this to her kindle.

Thanks for linking this-

Kristi said...

This is the second glowing review that I've seen of this book tonight. It's already on my wishlist, but I'll be moving it up in the queue!

Geri said...

Love your review...loved the book!

Booksnyc said...

I really enjoyed this one too - I have picked up her other books because I love her writing style.

Great review - I like how you related your own story to the one in the book!