Reinventing a Religious Self

I don't usually read memoirs. There are just so many of them out there, and the whole genre seems to have become self-indulgent or uninspired. Really, I'd rather just read fiction—especially if the alternative is a religious memoir about the conversion experience of a 20-something academic.

So I approached Lauren Winner's Girl Meets God a bit reluctantly. I had to admit, though, that the book's subject seemed intriguingly complex—Winner, the bookish daughter of a Reformed Jewish father and a Baptist mother, grows up in the South, decides in high school to become an Orthodox Jew, moves to New York to study at Columbia, and by the end of college emerges as a Christian. And that's really only the beginning.

The book's slightly unfortunate title involves more than a little irony. Winner doesn't so much meet God in a neat conversion experience as feel drawn into abandoning her Orthodox Judaism against her will. All this after undergoing the formal process required in order to convert to the faith of her father (Jewish-ness being passed down the maternal line) and having chosen to inhabit a life steeped in the study of the Torah and Judaica. When she decides to become a Christian, she continues to search for a way to position herself. This quest is fraught with longing for the faith she has left behind, a divorce-like pain of separation, doubt, and constant recalibration.

Friends, lovers, and family figure prominently in Winner's story. This memoir about a young woman's relationship with Jesus is propelled forward by the vicissitudes of other significant relationships in her life: her complex relationship with Steven, her Christian ex-boyfriend; her friend Hannah, one of her first close Christian friends, who is contemplating cheating on her husband; her Orthodox Jewish ex-boyfriend Dov. The dynamics of these relationships weave a fitting backdrop for her story.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2002
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