Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven – Susan Jane Gilman (2009)

Book cover w ridiculous pose on frontThis was quite an interesting travel narrative set during the 1980’s from the perspective of two recent female undergraduates. One of the most interesting twists in the narrative (aside from the usual “foreigner in a strange land” concept) was that one of the two travelers becomes mentally ill, paranoid and delusional in a small village in rural southwest China. This would be tricky in most environments, but when it happens in a Communist country and the delusions involve talk of foreign spies, it gets a bit complicated.

Gilman does a good job of describing her adventure, but I couldn’t quite get too attached to her. Although currently a present-day journalist (at least at time of book publication), she makes surprisingly jarring and dated stereotypical comments about the people she meets and the events that occur.

I’m not sure if she did this from the perspective of “this was the 1980’s and how it was so it’s ok to say this” or whether it was along the lines of “one of my best friends is [fill in the blank] so I can say that”. Whichever it was, I found it hard to respect her after these asides. One could be argued as having “slipped through the net”. Twice is an issue and should have been addressed by the editor (although probably shouldn’t have even been written in the first place). It wasn’t continual, but it was enough to pull up the reader quite a bit and have a “What. The. ….?” moment.

An interesting story, otherwise, with a good unpredictable twist to the more typical narrative, but it was definitely marred by those flippant comments.

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