Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven – Susan Jane Gilman (2009, Grand Central Publishing, New York)
Author Susan Jane Gilman’s memoir about an unforgettable trip to China with a friend – in 1986, when the country “had been open to independent travelers for roughly ten minutes” seems to be marketed as travel humour. The book jacket giggles over the culture shock the two audacious college graduates face, and totally fails to reveal all of the sinister and dark undertones that make this book such a complete page-turner. I’m telling you now, if you read this book, be prepared not to laugh as much as bite your nails in anxiety and surprise. What these girls go through is absolutely incredible, and if it all seriously went down as it did, it’s no wonder Gilman took the trouble to write about it. Here’s a book about a journey where no one is who they seem, where the government is always watching, and where Americans are viewed with awe and suspicion. It is absolutely fascinating to uncover, page by page, the psychological and emotional layers of Gilman the younger and her friend “Claire” – and how being thrown into a country as utterly foreign as China changes them both forever. I gobbled this one down like the delicious treat it is.
Just don’t trust the book jacket blurb. (Maybe that’s the point).