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Undress Me In The Temple Of Heaven

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  5,101 ratings  ·  794 reviews
Bestselling author Susan Jane Gilman describes a very different kind of back-packing trip to China in which she and her college friend set out to conquer the world only to be conquered by it.
Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 1st 2009 by Little Brown and Company (first published January 1st 2009)
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I'm not sure -- maybe it's me, but I found this book surprisingly fascinating and powerful.

This memoir describes Susan's adventures with her college friend Claire in the mid-1980s, as the two impulsively decide to backpack around the world. Naive and woefully unprepared, they start out in the People's Republic of China which had only recently been opened to foreign travelers. Susan, anticipating a lighthearted journey, finds herself overwhelmed by the stress of being in a foreign country where l
A page-turner! Two girls, fresh out of the Ivy League (which the author feels the need to remind you of constantly) decide to take a year and circumnavigate the globe, starting in China. In 1986, China was only just open to tourists, and only in certain areas. While the girls want to do everything in "legit" fashion, to do it the way the locals do, they quickly realize that they are in over their heads.

While I spent most of the story feeling a bit irritated towards these naive girls, it was def
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 perc
I picked this up from the free book pile at my job. The cover and title led me to believe that I was letting myself in for a self-indulgent remembrance of the author's various sexual escapades while backpacking around the world. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was nothing of the sort, but a rather more chilling and compelling tale. It was a quick read, and definitely a page-turner in the second half.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This book was hard to put down! I loved it. It is a memoir about two of my favorite topics...mental health, and travel to China.

The author travels to China in the 1980s after college with a friend who basically has a schizophrenic break while they are there. Travel at that time in China was unusual and difficult (it is not portrayed in a very positive light, to be honest, but I found it very interesting to compare to my own observations from traveling there in 2007). But the interpersonal and p
Genene Murphy
This is easy to pick up. You'll vicariously embark on the globe-trotting adventure Gilman prepares to tell. And you'll quickly learn that there are two stories: one you thought you knew and one you couldn't predict. That's what gives this gem character, apart from travel memoirs that read like travel magazine essays rehashed into book deals.

Here's the deal: Gilman and her college friend craft a plan at Denny's to travel the world. They first land in Hong Kong. Postcards are sent. Collect calls
Not judging the book by its title, which might lead you to believe it is quite a sexy book (it’s not), I really just expected this to be another backpacker’s account of her jaunt through Asia. As someone who, like many others, has “done the jaunt” herself, I found a lot to relate to so, excuse me as I write this review from a very personal viewpoint.

The book is set in China in the mid-eighties, a couple of years before my own first, brief encounter with mainland China. Susan Gilman and her not-
Susan Peterson
I was surprised how much I liked this book. The cover and title suggest something that's not really up my alley, but this really is a case where you can't judge a book by its cover. The protagonist (the author, as this is autobiographical) is a young woman just our of an ivy league college. She and a casual friend decide to backpack around the world before settling down. Their first stop is China shortly after it was opened to Westerners. Before long the author's companion begins acting strangel ...more
Aug 16, 2011 Mo rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Friends, writers, world travelers
Recommended to Mo by: Book Club Pick
Shelves: memoir
I have some conflicted feelings about this book.

To start: the writing is beautiful. Gilman not only gives an account of visiting the other side of the world, she shares the experience of being there in 1986, just after China opened its borders to independent travelers.

After graduation, Gilman and a friend pack malaria pills, water purifiers, picky appetites, and some naivety, and hop on a plane to Hong Kong. The goal? Travel around the world. Stop 1: China. Gilman describes a route that most pe
So good reading people, I have a confession to make: I TOTALLY judge books by their covers! That said the cover of this book does not do it justice at all-- Ive had this book for over a year and never thought to read it. How did it get in my possession you ask?

Surely you understand, I have this thing, its called an obsession--but not any kind of obsession, its an obsession with books, especially the free kind. If unchecked Id collect books like your g-mas pristine, unused, plastic covered, form
Aside from reading books, one of my favorite things to do is travel. I could spend most of my time jumping on planes and border hopping, and I would be perfectly content with that. To be honest, I would absolutely love to take a few months and just travel around, go and see the world, and do everything I haven’t had the chance to yet do.

Susie Jane Gilman does just that, and in 1986, when most borders were closed to the U.S. during the Cold War. Information was scarce and travel was truly an adve
Jessie Weaver
Susan Gilman notes in the introduction to her memoir Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven that the events she writes about are too strange not to be true. Heed that as a warning.

Undress Me begins as a safe travel memoir, chronicling Susie and her college friend Claire's travels to a newly opened China in the 80s. They've just graduated from Brown, don't know what to do with their lives, and decide in an IHOP to travel the globe. Susie is a tough girl from NYC; Claire, her pampered friend from Conn
Lisa Loder
I like books with strong women characters or those who pretend to be strong and have taken a chance in the unknown. Since I did a 3 mnth backpacking trip to Europe and eastern parts in early 1970's, I have always liked to read about other folks who set out with the notion that it will be easy:) This book opened a whole new venture into a country I never went to, China, which I suspected for years is complicated, scary and somewhere way behind the rest of the world. It takes place in the 1980's w ...more
This book started out without much promise. Two recent Ivy League graduates going off on an adventure backpacking around the world, deliberately taking the road less traveled in order to 'really experience' their ordeal. Gilman was tongue in cheek deprecating of herself and her friend "Claire," but I wasn't fooled. I knew I would think both of them were silly twats. And I was mostly right. They kind of were. But I did take great pleasure in reading the book, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. It ...more
It was an honest book, and easy to read, periodically interesting or amusing. But I have to say, I truly disliked both of them throughout, which made the reading experience a bit uncomfortable. Notwithstanding Susie's disarming self-deprecation, and her occasional insights, the degree of their ignorance and arrogance was just horrifying. I understand that she recognized it even then, and certainly in retrospect; it was not for nothing that she included her recollection of the black man ranting a ...more
Well-written, entertaining, and quick to read, while still providing a bit of insight. Especially interesting if you've been to China in the last decade.

Gilman reflects on her backpacking trip to China in 1986 with a fellow recent Brown graduate with brutal honesty and self-awareness (developed, she readily admits, only in retrospect). I think she accurately portrays the mindset of two relatively coddled 22-year-old American college graduates in a strange foreign land. But at the same time, 20 y
The Cyber Hermit
I had high hopes for this book considering the subject matter - two novice tourists in mainland China just after the gates had begun to be open to foreigners. But this was not that book.

While the author does take pains to note that she was young and immature, it comes across more as a way to excuse the behavior she's writing about rather than a real understanding of who she was then. She goes to great pains to point out the differences between her and her travel companion (Companion is rich, sop
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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 ...more
Gilman stated during an interview that she wanted to tell the story of her backpacking trip to 1980s China to illustrate how travel humbles us and expands our understanding. She and Claire, her traveling partner, see Chinese culture through the lens of their own Western upbringing. They speak a smattering of Mandarin, but not the local dialects. Even hand gestures and number of fingers held up to signify amounts are not the same as in the U.S. The Chinese spit often and eat unpalatable food (Cla ...more
Hey Jeannette D: I finally read a book where the story takes place completely in China. Go me! LOL!

I've never wanted to visit China and this book pretty much sealed the deal for me. Sorry, Natalie! I won't be needing your guest room. But keep posting pictures. I do love to see them :)
This memoir is about a pair of 20-somethings in the mid-80's travelling through a recently open-to-foreigners China. The book has a bad title and horrible cover, but it was a very fast read and well-paced.

The first 2/3 are an interesting travelogue/fish-out-of-water story, which I could relate to because the author wrote really well about what it's like to have a strong friendship with someone and then try to travel abroad and start to resent one another at times. The stories lag a bit, but even
Violet Crush
When I read the words ‘China’ and ‘travelogue’ together, I instantly gravitate towards it. And the events in this book take place in 1986 when China was only recently open for travel to foreigners. I went to Shanghai and Beijing about a year back and even now, it’s very difficult to communicate because other than the hotel staff no one spoke English. We faced a bit of difficulty traveling as we had to write down the name of places in Chinese and also take the map along with us. Going anywhere im ...more
I found after finishing this suspenseful memoir, it is staying with me even longer. Initially it seemed simplistic and naive, but after all it is about two college students who have decided to travel/backpack around the world and they begin a cavalier jaunt headlong into Communist China in 1986 (pre-cell phones, pre 9/11, etc.) Bad enough two young women going into areas that are not tourist destinations in Communist China, but one of the women (claire) begins a slow and disturbing descent into ...more
Brandi Rae

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 o

This memoir was a great book to read while traveling. After graduating from college in the mid-eighties and not knowing what to do next, Susan and her friend Claire decide to backpack around the world. They stop for a few days in Hong Kong on their way to Communist China, which has just barely opened its doors to tourism. This is not your typical travelogue; their harrowing adventures include interactions with the military police, medical emergencies in towns where the medical care was worse tha ...more
I cannot even tell you how absorbed I got in this book … how difficult it was to tear myself away to prepare dinner or get my son from the bus stop. This is simply the most fascinating, compelling, intense travel memoir I’ve ever read. It has everything you look for in a travel memoir: exotic locales, excellent writing, insight and a compelling narrative. Let’s take a look at these elements one by one.


In 1986, Gilman and her college friend Claire embarked on an “around the world” b
Story Description:

Grand Central Publishing|February 8, 2010|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-446-69693-7

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
Kate Mosbarger
This was an interesting story, not to mention a light and easy read, and yet I don't think I have ever read a book where I have disliked two characters as much as I supremely disliked Claire and Susie.

As a recent college graduate myself, I was excited to stumble upon a book that I thought might provide some humor and insight about this monumentally turbulent time. Unfortunately, Susan Gilman's memoir only seemed to by turns annoy and offend me. The characters narcissism was unbearable and the d
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Susan Jane Gilman’s new novel, “The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street,” will be debuting in June 2014. She is also the bestselling author of three nonfiction books “Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress,” “Undress me in the Temple of Heaven,” and “Kiss My Tiara” and provides occasional commentary for National Public Radio. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan, and has wri ...more
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“I’m aware that there is a bigger, far more complicated world out there than I’d ever realized, and just like the students at Beijing University, I’ve glimpsed it only fleetingly, peripherally. I’ve sensed the vast expanse of my own ignorance now. I feel antsy and constricted and a deep, almost sexual yearning for velocity, for some sort of raw, transcendent experience that I cannot even begin to articulate.” 3 likes
“Everything became a metaphor, a talisman, a sign that I was still actually connected to people—that I wasn’t so completely on my own.” 3 likes
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