Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

I recently read this book on a whim and found that I couldn’t put it down. If you have ever been in a foreigner in a…. well, foreign, country…then this true story about two college graduates might appeal to you.

Two college girls graduate from Brown University and decide to travel the world by starting in – of all places, communist China, circa 1986. They carry the complete works of Nietzsche and an astrological love guide in their backpacks along with purification tablets, binoculars, compass and other things. Their story had me laughing at the absurdity of the situation, cringing at the living conditions, marveling at the die hard backpackers they meet and in complete awe at the look into China at an evolving age.

One passage was memorable to me. The author mentions that all her life she has identified herself by her language, how she talks, what she says, and now that is taken from her. She doesn’t speak Mandarin or any dialect of Chinese and hardly anyone speaks English. She begins to wonder about her identity and how she identifies herself and then finds herself dealing with her friend, whom she realizes she doesn’t really know very well. So she is in a strange place, with a language she doesn’t speak and a traveling companion that starts mentally unraveling in rural communist china…fascinating.

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