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Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  7,525 ratings  ·  1,029 reviews
They were young, brilliant, and bold. They set out to conquer the world. But the world had other plans for them.

Bestselling author Susan Jane Gilman's new memoir is a hilarious and harrowing journey, a modern heart of darkness filled with Communist operatives, backpackers, and pancakes.

In 1986, fresh out of college, Gilman and her friend Claire yearned to do something dar
Hardcover, 306 pages
Published March 24th 2009 by Grand Central Publishing (first published January 1st 2009)
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3.79  · 
Rating details
 ·  7,525 ratings  ·  1,029 reviews

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Elyse Walters
Sep 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
About a week ago, Paul read me an article sharing general statistics about American traveling differences between generations.
It seems today the majority of Baby Boomers tend to take 1 or 2 long vacations a year - ( anywhere between 2 to 6 week’s on average).
Generation X’ers tend to vacation more often throughout the year - flying all over the world - but shorter stay-aways.

Very few of any generation are taking off for a year - or two - to tour the world today.
That was actually more common i
Jul 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 21, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
May 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 31, 2009 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
One of the reasons I love book clubs is because they push you to read outside your comfort zone, discovering books you never knew existed. Susan Jane Gilman’s “Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven” is such book for me. The true account of Gilman, an accomplished journalist, who set off to tour the world with one of her college classmates, this story is a WILD ride. Namely because the two start their journey in 1986 in China, landing in a country whose borders had been open for “all of ten minutes” ...more
Mar 17, 2009 rated it liked it
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.
Mar 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: other-asia, memoir
This was goooood. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, and it kept building and building. At the beginning the author writes, 'this is what happened, God knows I could never have made this up'. I thought, well, just how crazy is this story? Let me say this: it lived up. I usually check books out of the lib, but I actually shelled out the cash for this one. I'm glad I did, b/c I know I'll end up reading it again. I plan on forcing it on my poor over-worked friend the next time I see her b ...more
Sep 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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-
Genene Murphy
Dec 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
May 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 31, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 16, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Susan Peterson
Mar 26, 2011 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
Oct 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jessie Weaver
Apr 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
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
Feb 08, 2010 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
Apr 28, 2009 rated it liked it
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.
May 06, 2012 rated it did not like it
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!
Sheena Buccola
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
I love memoirs and this one was great! It was a shocking story about traveling through the People’s Republic of China during the 80s and how unprepared these two girls were for what was ahead.
Feb 20, 2016 rated it did not like it
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
Dec 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven is a cautionary tale of how not all backpacking trips end up as something you want to tell all your friends about when you get back home. Taking place in the mid 1980's on the cusp of mainland China opening up to independent travel, Gilman writes of the naivety of youth as she and one of her friends from University head out on a one-year trip round the world. However, things quickly begin to unravel as they experience a culture shock well beyond anything of the ...more
The Cyber Hermit
Oct 06, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
Mar 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: autobiography, travel
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lisa Loder
Jun 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 08, 2011 added it
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
Feb 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 09, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Nov 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 :)
Jun 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
I randomly found this travel memoir while helping my son find books for a project about the Silk Road trade route.

It was fun to read and I recommend it for anyone who enjoys travel and/or coming of age memoirs. The story takes place at an interesting time in history for the countries that are visited, which I think made the story a lot more interesting! The writing is reflective and a bit self-deprecating, which keeps a light vibe to a story that is sometimes heavy and sometimes a bit frightenin
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Susan Jane Gilman’s new novel, “Donna Has Left the Building” will be published in June 2019. 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," as well as the novel, "The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street." She's provided commentary for National Public Radio. She has an MFA in Creative Writing ...more
“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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