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Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven    by Susan Jane Gilman order for
Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven
by Susan Jane Gilman
Order:  USA  Can
Grand Central, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD
* *   Reviewed by Jessica Weaver

Susan Gilman notes in the introduction to her memoir Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven that the events she writes about are too strange not to be true. Heed that as a warning.

Undress Me begins as a safe travel memoir, chronicling Susie and her college friend Claire's travels to a newly opened China in the 80s. They've just graduated from Brown, don't know what to do with their lives, and decide in an IHOP to travel the globe. Susie is a tough girl from NYC; Claire, her pampered friend from Connecticut, insists on telling the Chinese her father is 'an important businessman in America.' The descriptions of Hong Kong and China in the 80s are fascinating; Susie and Claire's trip to a rural village that has never seen an American enthralling.

As the book progresses, however, this memoir turns into a recounting of the two girls' states of mind more than describing their travels. Claire becomes increasingly paranoid, sick, and strange. From about the middle of the novel on, Claire steals the show as the central focus of the book. While her story is interesting, I was still kind of yearning for the simple travel memoir I set out to read.

Gilman's language is precise and lovely, and as long as you approach this novel as what it is - a tale of two friends more than a tale of travels in China - I think it could be a highly satisfying and intriguing read.

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