Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven: A Memoir

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When Susan Jane Gilman graduated from college in 1986, she was ready for a big adventure. Over a pancake breakfast with a classmate named Claire, the two young women hatched a daring plan to travel around the world together. They would start in China, which had only just been opened to international tourists. Though Susan and Claire didn’t know each other well, they bought their tickets and packed their bags with outsize confidence.

The first few weeks of their trip were marked by bouts of homesickness, unfamiliar foods, flings with fellow travelers, and moments of incredible wonder. But as they ventured deeper into China, Susan began to notice unsettling things about her traveling companion — and the trip of a lifetime soon became a terrifying nightmare.

 “The view was astounding. For 360 degrees around me, there was nothing but mountains and the single sinuous wall slithering all the way to the horizon in either direction. I was a city kid. I’d never experienced such topography. The wall felt sacred and majestic. There was no sound but the ruffling of the wind, I felt as though I were standing on the roof of the world. Looking out over the stones and the hills, I experienced a seizure of joy. The wall and its landscape existed beyond all petty, quotidian fears. There was only stone, permanence, the curvature of the earth. The wind was as relentless and rhythmic as the tide.”

Susan Jane Gilman is an American novelist, memoirist, journalist, and public speaker. Her books include Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, Kiss My Tiara, The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, and Donna Has Left the Building.

Published: 2010
Length: 320 pages
Set in: Hong Kong; Shanghai, Dinghai, Beijing, Guilin, Yangshuo, and Guangzhou, China