John's Reviews > Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman
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's review
Jan 11, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: books-i-own, biography-memoir
Read in November, 2009

In the spring of 1986, two Brown University seniors met at their local International House of Pancakes and conceived of the impossible; an around the world trek which would begin in the remote, relatively unknown - to most Westerners then - People's Republic of China. In her latest, and finest, book to date, "Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven", journalist Susan J. Gilman recounts the epic trek that she and her best friend from Brown undertook through China in the fall of 1986, venturing deep within the country, to isolated towns and hamlets in a rural countryside that had never seen Westerners before. Without a doubt, hers is one of the most memorable examples of travel writing that I have ever read, and one that should be regarded as a contemporary literary classic.

"Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven" is no mere travelogue written with the literary flair one might expect from a splendid writer like Ms. Gilman. It is substantially more; a mesmerizing account of her final ascent into adulthood as she confronts and her friend's unexpectedly rapid decline into depression and insanity. And therefore, as such, it is quite simply as life affirming as the great memoir written by her high school English teacher, Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes". While I will not compare and contrast the literary merits of both books (Mine would not be a fair assessment since I count Ms. Gilman as a friend and Frank McCourt as my Irish-American "father" who instilled in me a strong love and appreciation for great literature.), I believe that it is as memorable an example of memoir writing at its best as, of course, "Angela's Ashes" most certainly is; an example that may leave its readers with many of the same emotions felt by those who have read McCourt's legendary literary debut.

(Reposted from my 2009 Amazon review)

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