Educated/ posted in: Book Review, Reading Educated by Tara Westover
on February 20, 2018
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Random House
Source: Audible, Owned
An unforgettable memoir in the tradition of The Glass Castle about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University
Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her "head-for-the-hills bag". In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father's junkyard.
Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara's older brothers became violent.
Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she'd traveled too far, if there was still a way home.
Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one's life through new eyes and the will to change it.
Somehow I completely missed the point of this book from the previews I read. I thought this was going to be a book about a woman who received a college education after a lifetime of fake homeschool. What this book is actually about is how a lifetime of psychological and physical abuse leaves scars that no amount of education can heal.
This book is brutal. Tara is the youngest child of a Morman family whose father believes that they need to prepare constantly for the end times. The children are kept out of school to keep them out of the hands of the Illuminati. Half-hearted attempts were occasionally made to teach the children but by the time Tara came along, they weren’t even trying anymore. She was indoctrinated in her father’s way of thinking which included regressive attitudes about women.
Her relationship with an older brother, Shawn, was the worst of her problems. At times he protected her from her father’s plans for her. Other times he beat her. In between he manipulated her into believing everything was her fault because she was a weak woman who needed to be disciplined to keep from becoming a whore. The violence and psychological torture escalated as she got older. Any attempt to stand up for herself was brutally squashed.
Another brother convinced her that she could go to college and get out. She did but hid everything from the outside world. She had no idea how to function in society. Her training in conspiracy theories led her to reject help from the state or the church because she believed any assistance was the way they got you to start participating in their evil.
I was looking forward to reading about how she got out into the wider world. This is actually where the story gets worse. Her family’s attempts to reel her back in are monstrous. Her mind was so broken by their brainwashing that she couldn’t see who to trust. All she knew was that it was her duty to do what her family said.
As of the writing of the memoir, she is out and she is alive. It could have gone the other way many times.
While this book is extreme, I didn’t see it as far-fetched. I’ve read several reviews that consider the story suspect. While I don’t know anyone who has gone through this, I can see parts of people I know in many aspects of this story. I see the affects of growing up with mentally ill, abusive parents who I would have written off years ago, in loved ones who are still trying to connect with these parents. I’ve seen people struggle to rid themselves of the ideas that they were exposed to in childhood. They know they aren’t true but still there is that small voice that asks, “But what if is it is true?”
This isn’t a happy memoir of the power of education and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. I think this is an important book but be prepared to be very disturbed by the level of abuse described and then almost immediately discounted as unimportant or worse, deserved.