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Review: Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

March 15, 2009


As Susie Gilman graduated from Brown, she and an acquaintance, Claire Van Houten decided to backpack around the world for a year.  Neither one of them had really traveled much before, but with their trusty Lonely Planet guide in hand, they decided to take the plunge.  They wanted to start the trip in China.  This was in 1986, when China was just allowing visitors, so they had to go by way of Hong Kong.  When they arrived in Hong Kong, Susie was stricken with homesickness and self-doubt and wanted to go home.  Claire gave Susie a pep talk and tells her that she believes in her.

When Susie and Claire got to the guesthouse recommended by the guide book they find it below our standards but decided that this is the way they want to travel, so they toughed it out.  They made their way into China and meet some interesting characters – an American woman traveling with her two small children, a tattooed New Zealander, a Chinese man who wants to deport to America – and see each other through sickness.

Along the way, Claire started to act a little strange.  She said she needed to go off on her own because she was writing a “world curriculum.”  She says the FBI, CIA and Mossad were after her.  At first, Susie wrote her odd behavior off on jealousy and homesickness.  When Claire seemed to have a break-down, several of the people they’ve met along the way come to their rescue.

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven is Susan Jane Gilman’s memoir of this remarkable trip.  I really enjoyed reading about her adventures in China.  I would never have the gumption to backpack around the world – give me the Holiday Inn – and thought it was wonderful to read about people who did.  This book showed that even though our countries and cultures are different, people are basically the same around the world.

Susan Jane Gilman will be on Blog Talk Radio on March 23 at 2PM Eastern Time.  You can call in with questions or ask them in the chat room.

Review copy provided by Hachette Books.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2009 6:48 am

    sounds like some great armchair traveling! 🙂

  2. March 15, 2009 7:06 am

    I love travelling, and have backpacked around many places in the world, including China. I’d be interested in reading this one, to compare notes – thank you for drawing it to my attention.

  3. March 15, 2009 9:00 am

    I am so not adventurous! This book has been on my TBR though.

  4. March 15, 2009 9:15 am

    This sounds like a very interesting book. I wish I had the gumption to take time to just travel after college. I had no cash, but hey, I had the rest of my life ahead of me to pay off the debt. LOL!

  5. March 15, 2009 9:48 am

    I love to travel and I’m pretty adventuresome — I’ll have to look into this book.

  6. stacybuckeye permalink
    March 15, 2009 10:09 am

    This sounds like a book I’d really like. Thanks.

  7. March 15, 2009 11:08 am

    I’m with you; I don’t think I could do it either.

  8. March 15, 2009 11:46 am

    I love the idea of this kind of travel but in the end, I don’t think it would be for me, unless I had a very adventurous travel partner to motivate me.

  9. March 15, 2009 1:06 pm

    I”m a bit more of a prissy hotel girl myself, but I do love love love to travel. 😉

  10. March 15, 2009 1:16 pm

    Sounds like an interesting read, and I do love traveling vicariously through other people since I don’t have the money to do much traveling myself. One for the wish list!

  11. March 15, 2009 1:48 pm

    This sounds pretty awesome. I had always wanted to backpack for a year after college, but sadly just couldn’t do it. I did have a friend who did though. Great review. 🙂

  12. March 15, 2009 2:22 pm

    I didn’t realize this was a travel memoir. It sounds very interesting from your description.

  13. March 15, 2009 2:39 pm

    That’s 2 for 2 for us this week of reviewing the same books. Cool, huh? I did like this book. Here’s my review:

    Good review, Kathy!

  14. March 15, 2009 4:13 pm

    How could you not jump on a book with such a gripping title as that?

  15. March 15, 2009 6:56 pm

    This sounds interesting. I’ll add it to my list. Thanks for your review.

  16. March 15, 2009 8:50 pm

    I just started this one and am enjoying it so far! I want to get it read before the Blog Talk Radio show. Nice review.

  17. March 15, 2009 10:31 pm

    How did I miss that this was non-fiction?! This book is heading straight to my wish list … I love personal memoir, and this will give me the opportunity to live an adventure that I missed in my younger days (OK, except for the part about the friend who has a breakdown, that I don’t need to experience).

    Thanks for the review, Kathy. I’m just floored that I thought this was fiction!

  18. March 15, 2009 11:14 pm

    Amazing how some people can just pick up and travel around. Wish I had that courage also. Sounds like a fun/exciting read!

  19. March 16, 2009 3:16 am

    This sounds fascinating, I’m going to have to add it to my list. A travel memoir about China sounds like the perfect follow-up to the other China books I’ve been reading.

  20. Carol permalink
    March 16, 2009 9:33 am

    This sounds really interesting. I’ll have to add it to my TBR list.

  21. March 16, 2009 10:44 am

    This sounds good. I sure wish I would have had the guts to do something like that when I was young. What an experience to have.

  22. March 16, 2009 1:06 pm

    I love travel memoirs. I will have to check this one out!

  23. March 16, 2009 3:13 pm

    I don’t normally read this type of book, but anything about China is informative for me. Good review!

  24. March 16, 2009 8:19 pm

    I am so behind! This one is on my tbr pile – It sounds great!

  25. March 17, 2009 2:21 pm

    That sounds more interesting than I expected. The cover is a little off-putting.

  26. March 18, 2009 12:25 pm

    Wow – I wasn’t expecting Claire to have a breakdown. Hard to imagine how complicated that would have been to deal with. This sounds interesting – I don’t think I was ever so brave to do this but my hat is off to those who do.

  27. March 18, 2009 8:21 pm

    I would LOVE to travel around the world but not taking their route lol.

  28. March 21, 2009 10:47 am

    This sounds so good, I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it.

    I’d love to take a trip like this!

  29. March 27, 2009 1:53 pm

    Not sure this is something I’d read, but I love the title.


  30. February 26, 2010 9:08 am

    This book sounds like a real adventure. Glad to hear that you enjoyed it.

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