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Published: August 3rd 2010
Undress Me In the Temple of Heaven, Susan Jane Gilman. Memoir.
2009, Grand Central Publishing.
If you even think about traveling, you should read Susan Gilman’s Undress Me In The Temple of Heaven. Set in 1986, Gilman tells us of her around the world trip, an idea hatched in the inspiring hour of 3am with her college mate Claire from the slogan on the menu of a pancake house.
Beginning in China the moment it reopened its borders to backpackers, the two confront the harsh realities of “roughing it” in an overpopulated Communist country. While nostalgic for American toilets and the hearty homeland cuisine of burgers and fries, Gilman and her friend straddle the divide of insanity and authentic experience.
Undress was a relief for this reader, who was tuckered out of all the travelogues written by women who only decided to be adventurous or find themselves post-break up or divorce. No, Gilman is refreshing in a genre that holds so much potential for the telling and marketing of the unique experiences of women travelers. This is one of the most gripping and exciting books I have read pertaining to travel yet.
Her mind set is relative to all those post-grads out to experience the world or to anyone who is a beginner at being abroad. Her observations are sharp in describing the social atmosphere of the backpacking subculture, the competitiveness of "roughing it" amongst them, the characters one meet along the way, the quirky situations, the immediate trust in strangers for companionship or a little comfort are all dead on.
Not to mention, her story left me stunned, her pro-action left me awestruck, and the end left me relieved that it was her and not me on that trip. What begins as young and catty melodrama becomes more and more suspicious further on. Claire, her travel partner, begins to make Gilman and fellow readers doubt ourselves about whether she is losing her sanity or there is a reason to all these furious outbursts and paranoia. The suspense is killer, the confusion in its escalation is daunting.
Written with only the voice of Susan Jane Gilman, it holds the New Yorker’s same style as previously demonstrated in Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress and Kiss my Tiara; comical, sartorialist, cynical. In two words; hilarious and thrilling. As Oprah says, completely “unputdownable”.
So, if you are preparing to travel, looking to travel, interested in travel, or just want to read a damn good book amongst all the heap of sap stories and sordid tales that line the shelves, I give you Undress Me In The Temple of Heaven. A sure fire adventure that is no where near as expensive as the real thing.
Keep up with this author abroad on her blog: http://susanjanegilman.blogspot.com/
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