22.10.19

BOOK REVIEW: Educated by Tara Westover

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.

Publisher: Windmill Books
Pages: 400

I do not read a huge amount of memoirs but this one kept on popping up on people’s blogs and I was intrigued. I had so many messages saying how good it was when I posted a picture of the book so I had quite high expectations when I started it! People were right though, Educated is such an interesting read, shocking and truthful it makes you consider some of the basic things we take for granted which the author had no experience of. 
Tara Westover was born to Mormon survivalists in rural Idaho, she spent her childhood helping to stockpile food and supplies for the End of Days which her father was convinced would be imminent. Her younger years were brutal, she either aided her mother who worked as a herbalist and midwife or she was put to work in her father’s scrap junk yard where she herself received several injuries and witnessed many others. Her parents shunned the medical world, so everything from burns to brain damage were treated at home with her mother’s home-made concoctions. Isolated from others, Tara and her siblings received no formal education, they did not have birth certificates or passports. Home education consisted of a handful of books which they could look at in their own time plus the lessons her father would teach about their faith and the many rules they must follow. 
Tara wanted to learn though and this thirst for knowledge led her to teach herself enough maths and english to get into college. Going against her family at every step, Tara managed to secure a college education, going on to study at both Cambridge and Harvard. These experiences threw light upon her childhood and she soon knew how abnormal and abusive it had been. Tara was subjected to both physical and mental abuse from her parents and one brother in particular, her story shows how she had to slowly adapt to a world she had no experience of. She would never consider taking pain-killers for a dental abscess, she did not even know the word Holocaust until her first college lecture and she believed she was damned to hell if she didn’t follow all the rules. 
Educated is hugely enlightening, reading about Tara’s childhood is like reading something from a different century and you constantly have to remind yourself that her experiences are recent. I was bowled over and in awe of her determination and bravery. She has obstacles put in front of her at every stop along the way but she overcomes them again and again. It was also humbling to see the people who helped her, those handful of people who realised her potential and the ways in which she had been held back. 
It was very difficult to read about Tara’s relationship with her family, it is strained from the very beginning and it only gets worse as she gets braver and begins questioning their teaching and treatment of others. Whatever they have done to her they are still her parents and siblings and it is heartbreaking to watch her struggle with the decisions she has to make about her relationship with them. 

There are parts of this book that are quite difficult to read, it feels like Tara will never get a break plus it is not fiction, this is someone’s life. Tara’s writing is compassionate and honest, I did not feel like she was looking for sympathy, it was more that she was wanting to show how this can happen and how she clawed back a proper life and future for herself. Tara’s memoir is inspirational, it is about working hard to achieve what you want no matter what start in life you have had. 

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