Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven
by Susan Jane Gilman
Grand Central Publishing, 320 Pages
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I read almost all of Susan Jane Gilman’s travel epic while sitting in the Mexicana Elite lounge in Mexico City about ten days ago, and on the plane trip home. I had a few hours to kill between connections, and the only other book I had left after vacation was a hardcover – not easy to read on the plane – so I began reading the novel while curled up in a lovely recliner, being served glasses of Mexican Coca Cola, and chatting (at intervals) with various Mexican businessmen – I was the only woman in the room, and every time one of them moved, they offered to get me something. I felt very popular, but there was nothing sexual in it, just sincere graciousness.
It’s interesting reading a travelogue while traveling yourself. This book, about the author’s backpacking trip through the People’s Republic of China after her college graduation, about “ten minutes after” Westerners were allowed into the country had that “out of the world” quality that really good romances do, but it’s not at all romantic (well, bits of it are), it’s more nitty-gritty psychodrama, for Suzie (as she was known then) develops a cold that slowly builds to pneumonia almost immediately after leaving Hong Kong, and Claire becomes convinced she’s an International Spy with Serious Enemies – really convinced.
While this book is a memoir, it reads like an epic novel – adventure, fear, great escapes, and true friends in unexpected places, all show up. In fact, about the only thing not mentioned is where you can buy off-label extenze, and that’s only because it had yet to be invented.
Read this book. Then take a long hot bath.
Goes well with Chinese takeout and steaming hot tea. Or banana chocolate chip pancakes.