Educated – A Memoir
Imagine growing up in isolation, with a father who regarded the government with paranoid distrust, who prepared the family for an impending apocalypse by stockpiling food, fuel and ammunition and “head for the hills” bags. Who made his children work with him in a dangerous scrap yard, where they were often severely injured. And who manipulated them with his skewed interpretation of the Mormon faith. With a mother who only occasionally homeschooled her seven children and deferred to her husband, despite being the primary breadwinner as a midwife and natural healer. With a violent and abusive brother. Could you get out?
Tara Westover did, but at a cost. She taught herself enough math and grammar to be accepted at Brigham Young University, stumbled on her ignorance, but eventually gained her footing and began reading and learning. Her pursuits took her to Cambridge and then to Harvard, where she earned a PhD. The cost was estrangement from half her family. The half that denied there was anything wrong.
Education is Westover’s memoir, an account of these years in which she left her home in the mountains of Idaho. She tells her story of universities and degrees, but more importantly, she describes her education about family, mental illness and abuse. And then she explains what she did about it, how, inch by inch, she moved away from both her father’s and her brother’s strongholds.
Educated is a fascinating description of a life that is nearly impossible to envision. As a reader, you can’t imagine how to get into college with no schooling. Westover may not have understood the abuse and dysfunction at age sixteen, but she knew enough that she had to get out. The most absorbing part of her memoir, however, is how she began to recognize her father’s behavior as mental illness. But suspecting this didn’t change the danger of her brother’s abuse, which was both mental and physical. Most disturbing was how she reached out to her mother and sister and how they didn’t back her up.
I enjoyed reading Westover’s story, however, I would have been interested in knowing more about her college and later years, including her relationships with other students and new friends. I finished the book wondering what she’s doing right now. I think these details would give the reader a better understanding of who Tara Westover has become. It’s interesting to watch her book tour interviews and you can check out this Christiane Amanpour interview on CNN here. Westover also has a beautiful signing voice. You can listen to Tara Westover sing a Mormon hymn on PBS NewsHour here.
I recommend Educated to readers to enjoy memoirs and autobiographies and also those who like reading about overcoming adversity.
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