Thursday, February 9, 2012

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber

Surprised by Oxford, a memoir by Carolyn Weber, is a relatable and inspiring account of a journey to faith. A Canadian academic, Carolyn comes to Oxford for a graduate degree in Romantic-era literature, dragging heavy baggage both literal and metaphorical. She grew up poverty-stricken, with an erratic and usually absent dad, and this scholarship to Oxford is her big break. As soon as she arrives in England, she falls in with a new group of friends, several of whom are Christians. Her old perceptions of Christianity as an antiquated, intellect-killing belief system are shattered by these fun, brilliant, vibrant people – especially a man she refers to as TDH (Tall, Dark, and Handsome). As the year goes on (the memoir is structured around the term calendar), Carolyn's mind and heart are further opened by discussions with friends and respected teachers. She teeters on the edge of faith, afraid to fully commit. Finally, she becomes a Christian, but of course, that's not the end of the story. Even as she finds deep joy and fulfillment in her new faith, she continues to struggle with the Big Questions of life and how God fits into her personal past and future.

My favorite thing about this memoir is that it doesn't pull any punches. It's raw and honest, deeply thoughtful, asks hard questions, and doesn't provide easy answers. I appreciated the emphasis that becoming a Christian has consequences and might cost you things, and relationships, that you hold dear. That's not a message you'll hear often. At the same time, this is a personal story – I enjoyed Carolyn and her friends, and to be honest, I wasn't totally hooked until I started wondering where this thing with TDH was going. :) Her descriptions of Oxford are also beautiful. I was already interested in the town and campus because of Lewis and Tolkien, but now I really want to see it for myself!

I felt that this book got bogged down by exposition at a few points. Some of the conversations were so heavy and fact-laden that they seemed made up, and I even got a little bored – I was like, Who talks like this? But if anyone does, I believe these people would. My academic friends can probably back that up.

Overall, I highly recommend this memoir. I stayed up way too late last night to finish it!


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