Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

Undress Me In The Temple of Heaven (Photo: Hachette Book Group)When I recently had lunch with my friend Jason and he told me about his plans to travel to North Korea, it immediately reminded me of how much I loved this book, so I decided to read it again.

I first came across Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven at a budget bookstore in New Zealand right down the street from where my former employer’s Auckland office is located. During my last eight or so months in Australia, I made frequent overnight trips to Auckland for work, because I was managing teams of writers in Sydney as well as an expanding office in NZ. As a result, I spent many evenings on my own in this awesome serviced apartment (if you need a place to stay in the Auckland central business district, I wholeheartedly recommend this place) watching a lot of crazy NZ television shows and reading books, including this one.

This is the kind of gripping travel writing that I love – it’s tense and suspenseful with a well-paced plot, plenty of humour and the kind of encounters with really good people that you seem to have when you run into sticky travel situations. In the 1980s, Susan Gilman and her friend Claire decide that they need to go backpacking in China, which has only just opened its doors to tourists. Armed with a Lonely Planet guidebook and inspired mainly by a ‘Pancakes of Many Nations’ special at the IHOP, two white, suburban, middle-class girls get in way over their heads in communist China – where one of them quite literally begins to lose her mind.

Jason raised his eyebrows at the title (so did I, when I first saw it), but for the most part in this book, everybody keeps their clothes on. It’s a thrilling travel memoir – and a great tale of friendship, youth and adventure – that’s well worth a look.


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