I'm a big fan of Susan Jane Gilman. Her first memoir Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress had me laughing out loud. I was pretty excited to read Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, released last month by The Hachette Book Group.
In 1986, Gilman and Claire make a momentous, drunken, four a.m. decision in their local IHOP (International House of Pancakes). Their place mats feature "Pancakes of Many Nations. So - " Staring at it , we'd had a jolt of inspiration. Why not eat pancakes of many nations in many nations? Why not travel the world? Oddly, barreling headlong into developing countries with a backpack somehow seemed far easier to us than simply getting a job."
Claire is from a privileged background. Gilman has grown up in subsidized housing and attended university on financial aid. They don't know each other that well, but go forward with their plan to travel the world. The first stop is Hong Kong and from there to China. China in 1986 has just opened it's doors to foreign travel.
What starts as an carefree adventure soon develops problems. At first Susan is able to explain away and ignore Claire's small idiosyncrasies. But when Claire mentions to other backpackers that she has heard voices and that there may be a terrorist cell after them, their carefree adventure takes a frightening turn. Stuck deep in a country where they don't speak the language, are physically ill and dependent on the goodwill of others, Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven is almost unbelievable. Yet as Gilman says; " All these events happened, and the people are real. God knows, I couldn't make this up."
An absolutely riveting read. Gilman writes with both humour and pathos - you won't be able to put it down until you turn the last page.