So this will be the very first time that I talk about an audio book here! It’s not that I don’t enjoy listening to them, it’s more to do with the fact that (a) comfy headphones are hard to find, (b) audio books are pretty expensive, (c) my library doesn’t have the greatest selection, and (d) my house is way too noisy with kids, animals, music, and videogames! Sometimes I worry that if I happen to get too engrossed in an audio book I will be unable to hear any possible destruction/accidents/brouhahas happening around me. Anywho, over the past few weeks I took advantage of the time I spend commuting to school and back everyday and listened to Susan Jane Gilman’s fascinating travel memoir Undress Me In The Temple of Heaven. I figured listening to this in my car while traveling would allay any possible worries I had of my house falling down around me, however I became so engrossed in the story that I’m sure a parade of elephants could have been dancing down the highway beside me and I would not have noticed!
I’m not going to rehash the synopsis here, I think the publishers description included above is perfect. Instead I want to focus on the things that really impressed me.
The most important thing about audio books for me is the actual reader/narrator. From the first 5 minutes of listening I was immediately blown away by Susan Jane Gilman’s voice, perhaps because of the autobiographical nature of the story, or perhaps because she is just a born story-teller I felt like the author was speaking directly to me. This is exactly what I want with this type of audio, the personal feel, the sense that someone is telling you a story about what they’ve experienced in their life. There were moments when I could hear the laughter, the awe, and the sadness underneath the words. It truly felt as though the author were reliving certain things while discussing them.
The ability to convey emotions through the retelling added to next aspect of what I loved in this audio book – the amazing subject of the authors travels, as well as the historical and cultural reflections. The author and her friend are traveling through China in the 1980’s and throughout their experiences the author manages to slip in lots of information about how that China differed from present-day China and it also helps the reader/listener to understand just how different the culture is there from North America. As young backpackers with no real experience traveling outside their own society, the culture shock that they experience is clear, honest, and at times scary to contemplate. I really was fascinated by the descriptions of where these two young women were, the people they met, and the situations they found themselves in.
*** May contain spoilers if you don’t want to know the details of the disaster of the travels***
The two women are school friends who’ve decided to travel together, and like many friends who think they know one another well, there are always things you don’t really know. During the trip, Susan Jane Gilman begins to notice her friend Claire behaving oddly, often paranoid and anxious. At first she believes it merely to be caused from stress, tiredness, culture shock, all those little things about travel that can upset a person’s personality. However it keeps getting worse, until the author realizes that Claire is most likely suffering some sort of mental/psychological breakdown. It was terrifying to hear about what was happening, it’s hard enough to help a person through something like this on your own turf, but I couldn’t imagine doing it while in a foreign country with no network of family, friends or even healthcare officials. Not to mention the language barrier.
*** End of possible spoilers***
To sum it up, for approximately 8 hours of commuting time, I was completely engaged in Undress Me In The Temple Of Heaven. I would listen to the story on my way to school, and then sit in classes anticipating the moment when I could jump back in my car, hit the highway, and tune in again to Susan Jane Gilman’s fascinating and exciting adventure in world travel and friendship. The only issue I had with this audio book was the fact that it is an unabridged version of the actual book, but I enjoyed it so much that I am planning on picking up an unabridged copy to read in the future.
About The Author
Susan Jane Gilman is the author of the bestsellers Hypocrite In A Pouffy White Dress, and Kiss My Tiara. She has written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Ms., and Real Simple, among other publications, and received several literary and journalism awards. She currently lives in Geneva, Switzerland, with her husband.
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