Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, totally worn out and screaming,
"WOO HOO, what a ride!"

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Review: Undress Me In The Temple Of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman

They were young, brilliant and bold.
They set out to conquer the world.
But the world had other plans for them.

This is a memoir from Susan Jane Gilman, a best selling author who decided to take an adventure and backpack around the world. In 1986, Susan and her friend Claire had just finished college and wanted a daring and original experience. They decided to travel for a year and they would start their trip in the People's Republic of China. Since it had only recently begun to allow independent travelers, they were almost immediately in over their heads. With their backpacks and only a few supplies, they ventured off into the streets of Shanghai and were overwhelmed by culture shock and unexpected obstacles. This was not going to be the carefree adventure they had anticipated.

I wasn't really sure what to expect from this story. I hadn't read Gilman's past work but had heard good things about them. I thought this was going to be a similar style, a witty account of her travels, but apparently it is very different. This is the author's own account of her trip that was suppose to take her and her friend around the world. As two Ivy League graduates, they were excited to try something new. In a women's dormitory in China they realized just how unprepared they were when they compared themselves with other women travelers from other countries who had been on the road for months, and even years.
...they'd dispensed with all Western frivolities a long time ago. They were expert navigators now, muscular with experience. Sitting among them with our brand new backpacks, my snow-white virginal Reeboks, our crisp pastel-colored L.L. Bean sportswear. Clair and I weren't impressing anybody. (pg. 73)
You'll have to read the book for yourself to see how they fared for the first time in a public "restroom". A small, bare concrete room with only a trough running though the middle, with a trickle of water from a rusty spigot that carried waste toward a drain in the floor. Ugh.

Although they were faced with hardships they also met many amazing people along the way. With their help and a trusty guidebook, they were able to become full-fledged tourists and experience The Great Wall of China, Tienanmen Square and many other breathe-taking sites. And it was also with the help of these people that the girls were able to deal with illness and another major crisis.

I really enjoyed this story and learned so much about the Chinese culture and history. I am not a traveler so I wasn't sure if this would appeal to me but Gilman's writing along with the increasing suspense made this a very interesting read. It also made me appreciate my own bed and running water! Give it a try. I bet you'll enjoy it too. I'll be looking for more of Gilman's books to read next.

Thank you to Miriam from Hatchette Books for sending me an early copy of this book.


  1. I thought this book was great too!

  2. I am adding it to my wish list...thanks for the great review!

  3. I read and reviewed this book, too! I think that it was the "pushing factor" in us choosing to make the model of the Great Wall of China (aka "The Ollie Wall O' China") for Colie's school project. I'm glad you liked it. I really liked her other book Hypocrite in a White Pouffy Dress.

  4. I have given you an award...and I see you already have gotten the same one I gave to you! Now you will have 2! :) Please check out my blog when you get the chance.

  5. Wrighty, when you have a chance stop by Merry Weather-I have an award for you : D Just noticed it looks like you've been ED'D.

  6. I just received a copy of this book -- good to know you enjoyed it so much! I'm looking forward to reading it.

  7. I couldn't put this one down either!


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