Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman
After college, Susan Jane Gilman and her old roommate Claire decided they wanted to do something adventurous before settling down in their lives. During a meal together at IHop, of all places, they decided they were going to take a year and backpack around the world, starting in China, pre-Tienanmen Square. Susan probably should have figured out something was not quite right when Claire’s father was so adamantly against her going on this trip, warning her of all of the bad things that could happen. Or perhaps when Claire started talking about the young Israeli man she was infatuated with before they left who, oh, by the way, was a member of Mossad. As if it wasn’t hard enough to be two young girls backpacking through Communist China in the 1980s, strange things begin happening, and Claire begins to act secretively, and hints that they may be being followed by any number of spy agencies.
Oh my goodness, I simply could not stop reading “Undress Me In The Temple of Heaven.” I was somewhat skeptical, wondering why I wanted to read Gilman’s travel memoir; after all, quite a lot of people seem to get memoirs published when their lives are not particularly noteworthy. Well, I learned the answer to why I would want to read Gilman’s travel memoir, and that is because it is AWESOME. Not only is Gilman’s writing fantastic, the story she was telling – all true, by the way, with just some identifying details of certain people changed – was absolutely fascinating. I was on the edge of my seat trying to figure out whether Claire was crazy or somehow involved in high stakes espionage (and no, I’m not going to tell you which it was) and when Susan would figure out just exactly what was going on. Really, this story is bizarre enough you’d think it was fiction, except as fiction it would probably be too improbable to be published.
I definitely recommend this book for the descriptions of the girls’ travel, Gilman’s writing style, and the highly emotional intensity.