Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

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Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman

So not what I was expecting. I thought this was going to be a memoir about two girls, Susan Jane Gilman and her friend Claire Van Houten and their backpacking trip through China; something where I could read about their adventures and for some of it, reminisce, “Ahhh, it was like that when I went there…” And parts of it were like that. Despite the fact that she went in 1986 and I didn’t travel there until twenty years later, Gilman’s description of visiting the Great Wall, of seeing glimpses of it snaking along the mountain ridges long before you ever arrive at it and the exhilaration of reaching the top sections and seeing the landscape just spread out before you…I remember that feeling. I remember having the same surprised feeling of being stared at all the time, of seeing so many people riding bicycles in one place, and of eating food that I never thought I would eat.

However, that is where our journeys take a drastic turn apart. When Claire becomes moody and difficult, spending large amounts of time alone and giving cryptic answers about what she is doing, Gilman just assumes that Claire is either homesick or that she can’t accept that the cute backpacking guys seem to be more interested her. The truth ends up being far from either of those scenarios, putting both girls into a dangerous, life threatening situation.

Although not what I expected, this turned out to be a really great read, perfect for those needing to either laugh or escape on an exciting whirlwind trip. I laughed when I learned the origin of the book’s title, and I held my breath during a trip to a small village hospital. I always meant to read Gilman’s other book (Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress), and after reading this funny, hard to put down tale, I definitely will have to pick it up soon.

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