I really appreciate Gilman sharing this story. The first bit of a travel for a lot of people is difficult, but I can’t even imagine attempting to get to the middle of nowhere in China in a time before my cell phone could help with directions let alone a time before the internet could have prepared for even showing up. The bravery or naivete to take on this adventure is astounding.
That said, I appreciate that the entire intent was to share a story that isn’t the glamorous American spirit conquering all things. I love my country, but not necessarily every single one of my countrymen and that narrative drives me a little crazy. As much bravery as it took to embark on this path must have paled in comparison to what it took to actually publish this book.
I don’t want to give too much away, but I kept waiting for things to take a more typical or expected turn and it just never happened. I’m amazed by the helpful people that Gilman ran into and those who helped her. I’ve also had experiences in other countries that are contrary to the opinion of most Americans of what the people in that country were like. I ran into one of the nicest women I’ve ever met in France just months after the US invaded Iraq and everyone was talking about how much the French hated the US. She made it a point to stop me when she realized I am American and tell me that they remember what our country had done for them. I’ve had a hard time ever since with the American perceptions of other countries, like China in this book.
There were a few moments that made me anxious or even cringe between not understanding they were going to or even travel in general. Then there were other times when I just couldn’t understand how absolutely free they were to make some of these terrible decisions and the ones that did work out. I still hope to get to China and see some of these sights.
I listened to the audiobook, from Scribd, and had the benefit of an author interview at the end. That’s where Gilman talks about the intent of publishing this book and what she wanted to reveal with it. Though I appreciated Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, I would be careful about who I suggest it to. It’s an important story to represent the era that it was written about and what things were like, but not one that I would recommend to people just looking for an enjoyable memoir. If you’re looking for a memoir about what it may have been like to visit China at this time, add it to Goodreads here.