Book Review: Surprised by Oxford

Memoirs are autobiographies sharpened to a point. This memoir is the account of Carolyn Weber’s conversion from skeptic to believer in Christ over the course of her first year of graduate studies at Oxford University in the mid-’90s.

It is not just a conversion narrative; it is also a love story and an homage to a historic university. In 36 chapters (many of which could stand alone as essays), Weber takes readers through the academic year while giving background about her youth in Ontario. She is a professor of Romantic literature, and literary (and some musical) references abound. I appreciated her honesty and vulnerability in telling her story. Her retellings of conversations with her friends and family–some of whom were happy about her conversion, and some of whom were disturbed by it–were some of my favorite parts of the book. It also didn’t hurt that Weber has a sense of humor. It is a testimony to how well she told her story that by the end of the book she seemed like an old friend.

Since memoirs tend to be shorter than biographies, some readers may be surprised by the length of this one (447 pages). It would be a pity if potential readers were scared away by that, since Weber does a good job of drawing us in and making us care about her story, her friends and Oxford. I’d recommend this book to all, but especially Anglophiles and those who enjoy, or are curious about, conversion narratives.

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