Book Review: (Crazy + Lonely Planet)/Communist China in 1986 = 2 stars

It's hard for me to say that I fully enjoyed this book (which was chosen by my book club a while back), but it did tell a unique story, at times in language that took my breath away. Which might rate it three stars. 

But I gave it two. Here's my review of "Undress Me In The Temple Of Heaven," a memoir by Susan Jane Gilman (aka, Susie, aka, "Sushi").

Undress Me in the Temple of HeavenUndress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have some conflicted feelings about this book.

To start: the writing is beautiful. Gilman not only gives an account of visiting the other side of the world, she shares the experience of being there in 1986, just after China opened its borders to independent travelers.

After graduation, Gilman and a friend pack malaria pills, water purifiers, picky appetites, and some naivety, and hop on a plane to Hong Kong. The goal? Travel around the world. Stop 1: China. Gilman describes a route that most people would not take, mixing in their experience with local culture and her encounters with the surprisingly large (but also small) backpacking community. It's almost shocking to read about how they travel now, not just post-9/11 - something that Gilman does address briefly - but the decisions they make that I can't imagine choosing (even in my early 20s).

There is also a lot of bat**** crazy in this book.

And the crazy is what kept me reading, because for most of the memoir, I found Gilman's friend - and at times, Gilman herself - aggravating and unlikable.

To Gilman's credit, she's the storyteller, and she doesn't sugarcoat the areas where she behaves badly/questionably/etc. And when I think about it, I might not have continued reading without that element of realness (or, if I felt I was getting a very sanitized account). I really want to write this review without spoilers, so I won't go into more detail. But that aggravation did at least keep me reading, if only from the desire to see if/how the women changed.

So at the end of the day... fantastic writing style, pretty imagery, and a unique story/setting... but difficult to read because at times, Gilman and her friend just make me want to walk away.

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