Educated by Tara Westover- Book Review

Title: Educated (review copy)

Author: Tara Westover

Genre/Themes: Non Fiction, Abuse, Childhood Abuse, Emotional and Physical Abuse, Religious Extremism, Doomsday

Blurb from Goodreads

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.

My Review

This has been one of the most unsettling reading experiences of my life. They always say fact is stranger than fiction right??

This memoir is horribly strange.

It tells the life-story of Tara Westover who grew up in the Idaho mountains. And her upbringing was utterly alien to me. I can’t even begin to comprehend it. Her family were headed by her zealot Mormon father who controlled absolutely every single aspect of her life. He was radical in his beliefs that the end of days were nigh, that stockpiling fuel and weapons for Armageddon was totally normal, that medical intervention was the devil, the government were always out to get you….

Basically paranoid to the hilt.

And how all this impacted his wife and family is laid bare in this memoir. Tara had no birth cert, no formalised childhood education, was physically and verbally abused, was treated as utterly second class, called a whore for simply being female….

The list goes on of basic human rights that she didn’t have and this makes for a gripping read but still a read that doesn’t sit well with me.

And I think it’s because so much of it is written in an incredibly detached style. The narrative reads as a fiction rather than a memoir. I find that even though this is Tara’s life story she doesn’t feel like the main character in her own life. Her memories often feel forced or too broken to make complete sense. I am sure this was a hugely cathartic writing experience for her and ultimately I hope it helps her find her peace, but to me there is something missing from this story. And whether that’s Tara’s personal identity or a sense of anger and injustice coming from her I don’t know.

This book has made me angry. I want to know why the community shielded this tyrant of a man. If indeed he is mentally unwell as Tara believes, he was still protected by his community throughout all her childhood and beyond. The family didn’t live in utter isolation.

People saw.

People were there.

But in my opinion excuses were definitely made because of the religious beliefs of others. Her dad may have been the extremist but the extremist was facilitated by others. I know at the beginning she says this isn’t a book about Mormonism but please… Fundamental extremist Mormonism is the big old elephant in this book.

I guess ultimately, I just don’t understand Tara. She is constantly seeking to go back to her family. To this place of violence… And I worry for her. I hope that one day she will find the peace she truly deserves and can fully come to terms with the gross psychological damage that she lives with.

A fascinating read but one that has left me with too many questions concerning the veracity of the author’s memories due to the emotional and physical abuse she suffered

An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher, Random House UK Cornerstone Hutchinson, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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