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Undress Me In The Temple Of Heaven

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  6,350 Ratings  ·  935 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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Jul 24, 2013 K rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs, chinajapan
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
Jun 24, 2009 Andy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 28, 2011 Callie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011, book-club
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
Mar 21, 2009 Jen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 31, 2009 Maltaise rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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-
Aug 18, 2009 Alexis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 27, 2008 Genene Murphy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 31, 2009 Jess rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Susan Peterson
Jun 14, 2016 Susan Peterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
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
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
Aug 16, 2011 Mo rated it it was ok  ·  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
Feb 08, 2010 Colleen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
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
May 09, 2012 Helen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The whole time I was reading this book, I kept thinking it was leading into something really dramatic! But as I finished each chapter I was disappointed. After the final chapter I was like what the %&*$@ !!!! This book was so not worth my time!
Mar 05, 2016 Derek rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Might I suggest an alternate title: Ugly American? The behavior on display here exemplifies every stereotype foreigners have about US citizens traveling abroad: they're rude, selfish, pushy, judgmental, and lazy. They take without giving and constantly complain about every inconvenience while possessing little empathy for the people around them. Everything is dirty, the food is disgusting, the people are blanks that move around without purpose. It did not take long for Susan to establish herself ...more
Lisa Loder
Jun 22, 2009 Lisa Loder rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 09, 2010 Laurie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs, non-fiction
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
Feb 15, 2010 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 09, 2010 The Cyber Hermit rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 19, 2009 Tressa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel, autobiography
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 11, 2015 Melissa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ladies-writin
Oh my. I thought this was going to be funny. It's not very funny. It's very well written, but not funny. What do you do when you're in China & your traveling companion starts manifesting the symptoms of either schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder? You freak out. Having been through something like this before (though not in China, thank god), I cringed through the whole thing. It's a testament to Gilman's writing that I wanted to finish this.
Jul 24, 2015 Barbara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, travel, asia
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
Oct 13, 2016 Sharon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book! It was humorous at times-especially early on with all the naive attitudes of the two young girls taking off on an adventure! Neither one had any real grasp on what they were getting themselves into; they were simply living off the ideals of Ivy League college life and high on unrealistic expectations. I related to some of the thinking of these girls in their early 20's, believing that the world was their oyster and anything was possible. Oh, the unfettered idealism of youth! Unf ...more
Aug 31, 2015 Liz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Susan Gilman's memoir of traveling in Asia reads like a suspense novel. It was fun to look back with SJG to the mid-eighties when travel in China was very restricted and in general, not that many young Americans were roaming that part of the world with backpacks. Her spunky New York attitude resonated as did her overwhelming case of culture shock. I'm not sure I liked the constant comparisons with US culture but that was her only point of reference and without any real orientation other than ton ...more
Jul 23, 2016 Diane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is a memoir of the author’s backpacking trip to China with a friend right after her graduation from Brown University in the 80's. The two travelers were young, naive, and impetuous. China at that time was a poor, communist third world country. Problems were obviously going to arrive. The book reads like a fiction, and, indeed, I had thought it was for a good portion of the book. (It had sat on my bookshelf for a long time before I picked it up to read.) Perhaps that is why while I read ...more
I listened to this on audiobook, and I am wondering if the fact that it was abridged affected my opinion (I didn't realize it was abridged). I didn't like either of the main characters much, even from the beginning, but I don't think we were supposed to. I definitely was engaged by much of the writing style and the story, but I kept wondering why they seemed to be overreacting to every single trial - that didn't even seem that huge. Their idealism was overwhelming (even to someone who went throu ...more
Aug 07, 2014 Jeannette rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 :)
Jul 11, 2014 Becky rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclub
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
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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.” 4 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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