Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

by Susan Jane Gilman

Hardcover(Large Print)

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780446541251
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 03/24/2009
Edition description: Large Print
Pages: 544
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.90(d)

About 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.

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.

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Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 78 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.
KellyBlackwell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My review was for the audio book version. I won this audio book from a book reviewer's blog.Initially, I was mildly not interested when I heard the author's voice, and this I assume is just because I have grown accustomed to actors reading audio books. I would say that roughly ten minutes into the book, this became a non-issue.I was taken in fairly quickly by the possibilities that this story gave me. Two young women embarking a year-long journey into the world. What could be more exciting than a year of adventure in many different countries. Oooooh, my jealousy and interest were equally piqued. It was something that I would have loved to do when I was younger.The journey that Susan and her college friend go on, is a journey that most people do not envision when planning a year of back packing their way across the globe. Adventure does not equal comfort or ease. There are times when the girls are at eachother's throats. They have strict guidelines to follow when embarking on their first leg of their journey through China.My favorite part of the story was the characters that the women met. I am reminded of the comradery that you develop with fellow travelers. Susan also doesn't shy away from showing the girls as they were. Which means their good sides as well as their flawed sides. I appreciated the honesty of their portrayal. As far as their journey goes, there are times that seem definitely dangerous, but it seems someone is on the girl's side. I truly felt things could have ended up a lot worse. I believe in God, and I think that people were definitely in the right place and the right time for these women. It is an adventure story and a cautionary tale.I would give the audio book version of Undress me in the Temple of Heaven 3.5 stars. I enjoyed Susan's work, and look forward to reading some more of it. :)
Kellyannbrown on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wow, What do you do when the person you are traveling with goes crazy? How do you cope with the stress of culture shock when you are half-way 'round the world? This was a good and exciting read.
ForeignCircus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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!
whitreidtan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's 1986 and Gilman has just graduated from college. Instead of getting a job right away, she and a casual friend from college decide to embark on an around the world backpacking trip starting in China, which had been newly opened to Western travelers. In addition to having a rosy, glorified idea of what a year spent backpacking in foreign cultures would be like, the girls didn't even know each other nearly as well as one might have expected, nor did they consider how traveling together would be in actuality. The eureka moment that led them to their trip went from being inspired and spontaneous to be being scary and unplanned.Gilman faces homesickness almost as soon as she and Claire touch ground in Hong Kong, wanting nothing more than to cash in her return ticket and head home immediately. But Claire talks her out of it and they fall in with a fellow backpacker, Gunter, as they apply for visas and tickets into China. Once on board ship, they meet an assortment of other Westerners and a Chinese man, Jonnie, who makes it his priority to introduce them to Shanghai and his own hometown in hopes that they will help him with the American Embassy in Beijing. Even with the kindness of strangers, Susan and Claire soon find out that they have romanticized China and that they are in fact, uncomfortable both physically and emotionally. The crowds and being stared at highly distresses Claire, a child of the suburbs while Susan is a bit more blase about the experience, even while she still wants to go home.The experiences these two young women experience as they move around China are surreal, being interrogated by the military police, wandering without a map through a city not officially open to Westerners, escaping from a hospital and a doctor waving a rusty syringe, and so on. Their experiences are clearly not usual, not even for backpackers who like to hold "one-upmanship" conversations. But they also met some wonderful people as they moved around. The fellow backpacking community came off as generally charming and freewheeling. But ultimately the culture shock was too much for the girls and while one deteriorated physically, the other deteriorated mentally so that it became imperative that they get out of China.As the saying goes, Truth is stranger than fiction, and that is certainly proved by this book. In the beginning, this seems like a simple travel narrative about two girls post college who intend to sightsee and meet boys around the world. But then the surreal starts to creep into the narrative and tension starts to build as the journey descends into waking nightmare. Gilman deftly handles both her own and Claire's experiences, never whitewashing the interactions of either of them. She has to imagine many of Claire's feelings towards her but recognizes that her antagonism and annoyance with Claire is probably equally felt towards her by Claire. The personal, friendship and relationship, is clearly a large portion of the book but there are also interesting insights into how we react to other cultures and to being "the other" in them. There are hints of the political, especially knowing that Tiananmen Square was still to come and September 11 was far in the distance but as befits a memoir of backpackers in 1986, Gilman doesn't delve too deeply in the political situation of which both she and Claire can't have been overly cognizant. This is, though, more than just a travel narrative. Yes, there is humor and new experiences. But it is also a look into the challenge of travel and surviving another culture and of a descent into instability that colored everything. I do enjoy this type of book and think fans of travel narratives that haven't been prettied up to be guide books will enjoy this was well.
knittingmomof3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Snippet from my blog....Undress Me In the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman is an absolute must-read. 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.
BanksBookBags on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Susan Jane Gillman and a college friend decided to travel the world after graduation. They have no experience and end up in China and last for 7 weeks before her friend goes crazy and she has to get her home. Interesting travelogue of hardships of traveling and experiencing the world. She in the end goes back to traveling and becomes a journalist and travels the world with her husband. In 2008 she and her husband travel back to china to retrace her steps and she finds one Chinese lady that had helped them.
pamdierickx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great book I can identify with her and how she felt "undressed". Every time I get out of my comfort zone in to a foreign country I feel undressed. The author became a journalist and travels the world with her husband. On her first trip in China - she is not prepared for the loneliness and the language barrier and her friend ends up crazy and she had to get her out of China and home.
grnpickle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a fascinating book. Gilman has a knack for putting you right into the place and time. You can almost smell the smells and see the sights. A very good book.
ReadingWithMartinis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When I picked up this book, I thought it would simply be a memoir of college girls traveling the world. That is partially true. What this book actually ended up being was Gilman¿s tale of traveling to China with a relative stranger who suffers a psychotic break while they are traveling, and Gilman must care for her companion and try to get her back home safely.I absolutely could not put this book down. It is, hands down, one of the best memoirs I have ever read. I highly recommend this book to everyone, even if you don¿t consider yourself a fan of memoirs.
RidgewayGirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Just before Susan Jane Gilman graduated from college in 1986, she and a friend sat in an IHOP in the early morning hours and giddily decided to travel the world together, to the most exotic and untraveled places they could find. This was back before the internet or cell phones, the Berlin Wall still stood, Eastern Europe was still behind its iron curtain and China had been open to Western tourists "for about ten minutes". So, of course they went to China.I picked up this book with the strong impression it would be a breezy, humorous chronicle of disaster, with a strong ironic, mocking voice. What I found instead was a stark, nuanced tale of a girl in a situation so completely over her head, who somehow managed to get through it and now writes with honesty about it. Gilman doesn't spare herself criticism, but she writes about the people she encountered along the way with compassion and understanding.
catarina1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It begins as the travel story of two recent college grads off to see the world before settling into their lives. But it soon becomes more than that. There are the funny stories that we all hope and fear to have. But our heroine learns a whole lot about life, the world and herself. And it validated my preference to travel alone.
NMayberry on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was not what I thought it would be - a light hearted journey around the world by two ivy league graduates in the 1980's. Instead, while in China (which has just been opened to Westerners) one of the girls gets extremely sick. (I don't want to give away too much about this.) and the author needs to get them both out of China without the authorities knowing how seriously ill she is. It was an exciting story and the only way I want to experience this China.
kathyceo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Enjoyable memoir of a planned year long backpacking trip post college in the mid 80's by two college friends. As the trip which begins in China becomes more alien and uncomfortable than either had anticipated or ever experienced, they realize that they really don't know one another (or themselves) very well, and must cope with very difficult situations at the age of 22, one of which seems to be mental illness.Well written with lots of humor, a compelling read, with insight and sensitivity.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Susan and her friend, Claire, set off for a round-the-world trip, but everything came to a screaming halt when Claire was beset with mental illness. This is the story of Susan¿s trip, taken over thirty years ago. I love travel memoirs, but I really liked this one more than most of my recent reads. I¿m amazed at the details Gillman provides; it felt almost like a trip back in time.
Luciana43 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Readable and interesting, but mainly because there is foreshadowing of a tremendous crisis. When the crisis comes, it's a tempest in a very small teapot.I almost put this book aside before starting when I read in the author's introductory note that the 'distinguishing characteristics' of her travelling companion, who is the center of the narrative, had been altered 'to the extent of 'rendering [her] unrecognizable'. These changes make it questionable to call this book a memoir, or even a docudrama.
iluvvideo on LibraryThing 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!
Wrighty on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a memoir from Susan Jane Gilman, a best selling author who decided to take an adventure and backpack around the world. In 1986, Susan and her friend Claire had just finished college and wanted a daring and original experience. They decided to travel for a year and they would start their trip in the People's Republic of China. Since it had only recently begun to allow independent travelers, they were almost immediately in over their heads. With their backpacks and only a few supplies, they ventured off into the streets of Shanghai and were overwhelmed by culture shock and unexpected obstacles. This was not going to be the carefree adventure they had anticipated.I wasn't really sure what to expect from this story. I hadn't read Gilman's past work but had heard good things about them. I thought this was going to be a similar style, a witty account of her travels, but apparently it is very different. This is the author's own account of her trip that was suppose to take her and her friend around the world. As two Ivy League graduates, they were excited to try something new. In a women's dormitory in China they realized just how unprepared they were when they compared themselves with other women travelers from other countries who had been on the road for months, and even years....they'd dispensed with all Western frivolities a long time ago. They were expert navigators now, muscular with experience. Sitting among them with our brand new backpacks, my snow-white virginal Reeboks, our crisp pastel-colored L.L. Bean sportswear. Clair and I weren't impressing anybody. (pg. 73)You'll have to read the book for yourself to see how they fared for the first time in a public "restroom". A small, bare concrete room with only a trough running though the middle, with a trickle of water from a rusty spigot that carried waste toward a drain in the floor. Ugh.Although they were faced with hardships they also met many amazing people along the way. With their help and a trusty guidebook, they were able to become full-fledged tourists and experience The Great Wall of China, Tienanmen Square and many other breathe-taking sites. And it was also with the help of these people that the girls were able to deal with illness and another major crisis.I really enjoyed this story and learned so much about the Chinese culture and history. I am not a traveler so I wasn't sure if this would appeal to me but Gilman's writing along with the increasing suspense made this a very interesting read. It also made me appreciate my own bed and running water! Give it a try. I bet you'll enjoy it too. I'll be looking for more of Gilman's books to read next.Thank you to Miriam from Hatchette Books for sending me an early copy of this book.
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