Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven
Susan Jane Gilman
Grand Central Publishing (2009)
ISBN 9780446578929
Reviewed by Laura Johnson for Reader Views (7/09)


After a night of drinking, two girls converge on the International House of Pancakes (IHOP).  The two girls were about to be graduates of Brown University and they were contemplating just what path their lives would take after graduation. However, the IHOP placemats listing pancakes of all nations seemed to decide that path for them.  A plan was born to travel the world for a year and experience what the world had to offer, before they embarked on real life and a career.

Susan and Claire could not have been more different.  One was raised in the rough streets of New York and the other grew up in a life of money and privilege.  It never occurred to either of them that those differences might make for an unlikely pair for a year of travel.  They were both on a quest of adventure and to conquer the world and not much thought was given to anything else.  The two travelers started their journey in Communist China and found that it was a completely different world than home.  From sleeping in hostels with roaches, not being able to communicate with the locals, being searched by the Chinese police, to the eventual demise of one of the girls, this book keeps the reader guessing about what will happen next. It is a terrifying tale that can only be related to Alice falling down the rabbit hole and the struggle to survive in an unknown world.

This book is a true story that was written twenty years after the fact, but reads as if the two travelers just returned to America yesterday.  The details are precise and lively, which gives the writing a fresh, honest, and engaging quality.  “Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven” by Susan Jane Gilman is one of fast-paced adventure that I would highly recommend for every reader that has ever thought of traveling out of their comfort zone.

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