Sunday, April 18, 2010

Undress me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman

Greetings readers!  Glad to be back and writing about reading again.  As many of you know I have had quite the life changing adventure for the past few weeks.  I am here to report on the only thing I managed to read while on the road.  After this I hope to launch a short series on Chinese American fiction.  

A travel memoir about China could not have been more fitting for my recent trip to China to begin a new phase of my life.  Susan Jane Gilman has written a snappy modern day Heart of Darkness about descending madness while backpacking in China in 1986, shortly after the country opened it's doors to backpackers.  

Having some of the same places on my travel itinerary and feeling a little of the same  lost and disoriented feeling as Gilman did, I could really relate to her sense of lonliness and isolation.  I read it late into the night when I was too wired from jet lag.  I could not put it down.  Although I read and enjoy many travel narratives it is not often you can say you can not put one down.  

The most interesting parts of this were how fast and loose they were able to be with getting on flights and fudging passports in the pre-9-11 world.  This scene could never have happened today.  Also, it was a sobering reminder for me that while I was able to skype my friends back home in an instant, Ms Gilman and fellow backpacker Claire had never even heard of a lap top or email.  The best they could do was call collect.  Travel has gotten easier in so many ways.  

I gave this memoir to Catherine and hope she reads it and finds it compelling.  She seemed excited to receive it.  I'd love to hear your recommends both for travel memoir for me and Chinese American fiction to send to Catherine.  


Molly said...

This sounds like an interesting memoir. I will have to check it out. I've always been fascinated with China and its history, and I hope your trip was one full of more joy than disorientation! =)

Have you read Confucius Jade by Frederick Fisher? It's not a travel memoir but rather a work of fiction steeped in Chinese philosophy and non-fictional places of interest (some well known and some off the beaten path) and historical significance. The tale is from the perspective of a female descendant of Confucius who is also a jade carver. There is a whole pursuit of a jade carving of Shou-Xing Lao - Chinese God of longevity and the backdrop is the beauty and mystery that is the region. The author is a gemologist and extensive traveler to Asia, so every place he describes just comes to life. It's truly a magical, transcendant piece.

Thanks again for the Gilman recommendation, and happy reading!

Esmerelda said...

Thank you. I will put it on the list.