Published by Hachette Audio
Rating: 4.5 stars
Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven chronicles Susan and her friend Claire's impulsive decision to travel the world after graduating Brown University. The story follows them throughout China as they meet new people, try new foods and explore a country that has since experienced a huge transformation. It is a chance to hear about how China used to be and at the end of the story, to hear how much it has changed.
This story itself is so interesting and at times, truly mesmerizing. I loved the descriptions of the beautiful scenery and the exciting adventures Susan and Claire experienced. It was wonderful hearing about all the unique people they met along the way and about the warm hospitality they often received in each destination. The narrative does not, however, shy away from describing the difficult times as well, especially when things take a turn for the worst. This story did not follow the path that I was expecting it to take, however hearing the author's explanations helped me understand why she felt she needed to document this journey. It is clear that Susan Jane Gilman went through a lot on this trip and it no wonder why it is only 20 years later that she decided to revisit this experience from her past.
This was actually my first time listening to an audiobook! Although I'm not sure how different my experience with this story would've been had I read it instead, I really enjoyed having the author herself read the audiobook, which probably made all the difference because its a memoir. Since this book in particular, features many foreign accents (Chinese, German ... etc.) it was a lot of fun hearing Susan putting on those accents since she happens to be pretty talented at it!
Another wonderful bonus of the audiobook is the interview that I heard at the end with Susan Jane Gilman discussing her book and the motivation for its conception which clarified things a great deal for me. For example, she discussed how most travelogues and travel memoirs only focus on the positive aspects of travel and always end happily. The problem with these books is that sometimes it appears that Americans (or perhaps more generally, "Westerners") have symbolically conquered these foreign countries and triumphed against language and cultural barriers, which is often unrealistic. Ms. Gilman wanted to show that we are not always as invincible as we think and there are important cultural differences in this world that should be respected. Not every ending is a happy one but despite all the pain and difficulties that both Susan and Claire encountered, lessons were learned and Susan can attest to her own growth and maturity that she developed as a result.
BIG THANKS to Anna and Hachette for my review copy