Undress Me In The Temple Of Heaven by Susan Jane Gillman

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.

♦     ♦     ♦     ♦     ♦

Can you say road trip?  😉

I love the story here!  Author Susan Jame Gillman shares in this memoir, a road trip here and her friend Claire took when they were in college.  I love that!  As they venture into China their story unfold at first as a fun girls trip to quickly escalating into something I would describe as pretty scary fro me – let alone two young college girls in the 80’s, which would be the exact time frame when I would have been getting out of school myself!

As the girls do their exploring things change rapidly for Claire and I don’t want to give too much away here, but let me just say her mental health became unstable which puts a bit of a scary dimension to the book as the story unfolds.  For myself I can not imagine dealing with such circumstances in an area unknown to myself and no one to turn to for help.

Susan writes this story with a refreshingly funny and open voice and with a wonderful recollection of the events that took place.  At times I was in awe of what was happening, and at other times I laughed out loud.  I found her writing descriptive and I could get a good picture of a country and people who I have never had the experience of seeing for myself.  Through Susan’s eyes and her words I feel as though I have just closed the pages to an exciting adventure.

About The Author

Susan Jane Gillman is the author of three nonfiction books, Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, and Kiss My Tiara (see bookshelf). Have contributed to numerous  anthologies, worked as journalist, and written for New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Ms., Real Simple, Washington City Paper, Us magazine among others. Won New York Press  Association Award for features written on assignment in Poland.

In her own words: Funny, but... I never set out to write books that made people laugh. My main love has always been literary fiction, and the first book I completed (which has yet to be published) was a collection of serious short stories. However, even with my darkest work, people would always tell me that parts of it were funny. This annoyed me because I aspired to be an American Dostoevsky with Breasts.
But in 1999, I took a writers’ workshop at the Bethesda Writers’ Center. The first story I submitted was a heartbreaking tale of a man’s addiction, which impressed the class. The second was an absurd story about mistaken identity full of Jews, Rastafarians, and dental hygienists. To my great irritation, the class liked this one infinitely more.
After class, a man pulled me aside. “I have to tell you,” he said. “My wife has been battling breast cancer. I read her your story last night, and it was the first time in two years she really laughed. You’ve got a gift. Please don’t ignore it. Not everyone can make a sick woman laugh in her hospital bed.”  That’s when I finally saw the merit in my own, lurking smart-ass and stopped fighting it.

My review copy was given to me by Hachette Book Group

32 thoughts on “Undress Me In The Temple Of Heaven by Susan Jane Gillman

    1. I found that really interesting too wordlily. I have only read a couple other books surrounding China – both were fiction. This was my first non fiction of the area.

  1. Maybe this is what I need to get me out of my mystery rut-a really good narrative non-fiction. I’m adding it to my list of books to get…if only I didn’t already have two bookshelves of unread books glaring at me accusingly already! 🙂

  2. Wow. Thank you so much for the amazing review. I am thrilled that you like “Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven.” Writing — like traveling to China in 1986 — is profoundly lonely. It means the world to me to hear feedback.

    I’d love to hear from all of you who read my book. Would you email me through my website at http://www.susanjanegilman.com and let me know:

    1. I’ve been told the story starts off simply, then gathers velocity until you can’t put it down. Is this true? Was the beginning slow to you?

    2. Did you see the ending coming?

    Enjoy the adventure. It’s comforting to know that the terrifying journey I had in China can be a source of entertainment, comfort, and inspiration to others.

    1. Hi Susan! Thanks for stopping by! You have great questions here.

      For me the beginning was a little slow but not to the point where it bothered me. I felt I was gathering information.

  3. I had no idea she had written such a book. I love love loved her Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress – it should be required reading for all stressed out brides to be – and for anyone who grew up with nutty parents. Thanks for introducing me to this one.

  4. Have read some really good reviews for this book. Really enjoyed yours too! Sounds like a fascinating travel book with a very personal touch.

  5. Most Americans have no idea what the rest of the world is like. Get off the well worn tourist path and they are seriously lost and sometimes in trouble. It sounds like a fun adventure, but the reality can be much different as these two young women discovered. Sounds like a good read.

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