One of the things I love the most about reading new books is not just discovering a new world, but discovering an author whose words take you on a journey that you never want to end. They words they choose and the way they lay them into a sentence that flows into a paragraph, into a whole chapter and more come together in perfect harmony enabling you to put yourself in the shoes of the main character.
This is what I found as I devoured the book I’ve been reading over this past week: Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman. Upon completing this wonderful piece of art in the form of a memoir, I want to read her other books.
Susan and her friend Claire, recent graduates from Brown University in 1986, decide to travel around the world and begin their journey in the Peoples Republic of China and end up with experiences they never bargained for. For the sake of this review, that’s all you really need to know. I could go on and write a summary of the book, but you can easily find that elsewhere and it would be mere fluff in this review.
I can certainly connect with the idea of exploring the world and experiencing new things and what I thought was going to a journey of meeting other travelers in foreign places and having sex in places the locals would never dare to, turned out to be the most unexpected trip of a lifetime. A trip that forever contributes (I won’t say defines) to who you are and reveals your strengths and weaknesses.
Thoughts that I continuously had on this adventure were: college doesn’t really ever prepare you for the real world (just makes you believe that it is), especially in the U.S. and even more so at Ivy League schools; who is the real “Claire Van Houten?” (the people not directly involved in the story will never know, but I still can’t help but wonder); it’s amazing how some people – complete strangers – are so willing to help while others aren’t; and I’d love to travel around the world (though probably not backpacking everywhere).
Ultimately, Susan Jane Gilman takes you on her journey with no apologies and humor, and she is certainly an author that us fellow writers can draw inspiration from and seek to find our own voices in this world.
Happy Reading 🙂