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Educated: A Memoir (Random House Large Print) Paperback – Large Print, February 20, 2018
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“Westover is a keen and honest guide to the difficulties of filial love, and to the enchantment of embracing a life of the mind.”—The New Yorker
“An amazing story, and truly inspiring. It’s even better than you’ve heard.”—Bill Gates
“Heart-wrenching . . . a beautiful testament to the power of education to open eyes and change lives.”—Amy Chua, The New York Times Book Review
“A coming-of-age memoir reminiscent of The Glass Castle.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Westover’s one-of-a-kind memoir is about the shaping of a mind. . . . In briskly paced prose, she evokes a childhood that completely defined her. Yet it was also, she gradually sensed, deforming her.”—The Atlantic
“Tara Westover is living proof that some people are flat-out, boots-always-laced-up indomitable. Her new book, Educated, is a heartbreaking, heartwarming, best-in-years memoir about striding beyond the limitations of birth and environment into a better life. . . . ★★★★ out of four.”—USA Today
“[Educated] left me speechless with wonder. [Westover’s] lyrical prose is mesmerizing, as is her personal story, growing up in a family in which girls were supposed to aspire only to become wives—and in which coveting an education was considered sinful. Her journey will surprise and inspire men and women alike.”—Refinery29
“Riveting . . . Westover brings readers deep into this world, a milieu usually hidden from outsiders. . . . Her story is remarkable, as each extreme anecdote described in tidy prose attests.”—The Economist
“A subtle, nuanced study of how dysfunction of any kind can be normalized even within the most conventional family structure, and of the damage such containment can do.”—Financial Times
“Whether narrating scenes of fury and violence or evoking rural landscapes or tortured self-analysis, Westover writes with uncommon intelligence and grace. . . . One of the most improbable and fascinating journeys I’ve read in recent years.”—Newsday
About the Author
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1. Tara Westover grew up in the 1990s (not the 1890s) and much of this memoir covers that time period. Although her family had a television, telephone and computer, she describes her family in this TV-folksy way as if took place around the time of "Little House on the Prairie." Her father's dialogue alone: He refers to school as "book learning" and at one point asks to know "about them classes." She calls her mother "Mother" yet in a quoted email toward the end of the book she calls her "Mom," which is a lot more likely for someone born in 1986 (not 1886.) Her father says Tara is getting "uppity" when she decides she wants some of that thar book learnin'.
2. Tara is playing the lead in the town's musicals as a young teen and taking dance and piano classes yet she is so naive about clothes and has so few that we are treated to the following scene, a la Laura Ingalls, when "Mother" takes her to Aunt Angie's house to get a dress:
"Angie... laid out an armful of dresses, each so fine, with such intricate lace patterns and delicately tied bows, that at first I was afraid to touch them.... "You should take this one," Angie said, passing me a navy dress with white braided cords arranged across the bodice. I took the dress, along with another made of red velvet collared with white lace, and Mother and I drove home."
What, no butter churn?
Remember, Tara is not isolated "off the grid." She's in town playing the LEAD in "Annie" as a kid, around other kids who presumably weren't so "isolated." Yet at 15 she's saying she thought Europe was a continent and didn't know where France was. Then again she's careful to say her father only watched "The Honeymooners" reruns on TV -- even though her father, who is in his mid to late 50s, was not even born when "The Honeymooners" originally played on TV.
Tara Westover grew up in the same era as Vanilla Ice, "Beverly Hills 90210," "Saved by the Bell" and MC Hammer but apparently none of those other "book learning" kids in town mentioned this. Pretty much the only pop culture references in the book involve Ralph and Alice Kramden.
3. Harrowing, near-fatal accidents appear in what to seem to be every other chapter. The injured family members hardly ever go to the hospital, emerging from unconsciousness, brain injuries, bloody limbs, or burns and more fairly unscathed a few months later each time.
Her mother is left apparently brain damaged after one terrible car accident. She never sees a doctor despite weeks of migraines and a lot of time spent in the darkened basement. She recovers, of course, enough to run a lucrative, essential oils business, Butterfly Quality Essential Oils, that employs many in the Westover family. This business is rarely mentioned in the book and instead it seems as if the Westover made their living working in "the junkyard."
Abusive brother Shawn is in two horrendous accidents - he falls in the junkyard, is knocked unconscious and yet "lived through the night." Later he has a motorcycle accident and Tara can see his brain through a hole in his forehead. "His brain, I can see it!" she cries on the phone to Dad. Shawn winds up in the hospital but the hole in his brain? No biggie. He recovers.
Luke's arm is gashed through to the bone while working one of the family's junkyard machines. (Tara also gets a gash in her leg from a farm injury. There is a lot of bloody "gashes" in this book. The family German shepherd is apparently chopped to death by Shawn.) Another time Luke also gets badly burned in a fire and all they do is stick his leg in a garbage pail to cool it down. He recovers without a doctor of course.
Dad is horribly burned, or so Tara says, in yet another accident involving a fuel tank on their property which leaves his "insides charred." He "still had a forehead a nose... but below his nose, nothing was where it should be. Red, mangled, sagging, it looked like a plastic drama mask that had been held to close to a candle."
Tara sees her mother take a butter knife to "pry my father's ears from his skull." He never sees a doctor for these life-threatening burns but recovers well enough to return to work. He is also pictured on his wife's Facebook page in a 2009 photo (taken after the burn accident) and his face looks normal.
There's yet another bad car accident, in which Dad drives so fast their van crashes into the snowdrifts, upside down. Tara winds up unconscious but doesn't go to the hospital. Her mother calls in an energy healer. Tara recovers.
4. When she's about 15, uneducated, mainly unschooled Tara decides she wants to take the ACT. She drives (by herself) into town to buy an ACT study guide. She scans the first page and doesn't understand the symbols. "What's this?" she asks Mother. "Math," says Mother.
Yet within a few months, Tara goes from teaching herself the multiplication tables to mastering trigonometry - enough to ace the ACT test. The accidents that befall the Westover family and the abuse Tara suffers at the hands of her brother Shawn are described in depth; her "Education" is not.
She goes from a 15-year-old who can't identify math symbols to acceptance at Brigham Young University and then - poof - acceptance for study abroad at Cambridge at 17 where her smitten professor says her essay is the best he's ever read. From there it's on to Harvard with a lot of traveling to London, Paris, Rome and even a quick trip to the Middle Eastern desert.
Favorite quote from the book? She is at BYU in her dorm room, studying with roommates.
"France, I now understood, was a part of Europe."
Top international reviews
self-pitying and self- absorbed. This one is not. The author gives a balanced picture of her troubled family,in which madness is combined with ingenuity, intelligence and grit, and of the wider Mormon community in which she grew up. It provides a fascinating insight into the complex effects of mental illness on family relationships and the individual. It is also a moving story of one individual's successful struggle to overcome those effects and live a satisfying life.
I read a review in a broadsheet that mentioned Westover’s author’s voice being distant and a little cold. I didn’t feel this at all. I felt it was all the more powerful for not being doused in flowery descriptions. It was clear and real and honest.
I like the references to how reliable a storyteller is, how our memories differ and how, in real life we have to find a way of weaving varying recollections to find a truth.
It’s an anthem to the power of education and knowledge. Fascinating and incredibly readable. The numerous accidents felt like the tense moments in an episode of Casualty. You know whenever there’s a scene with a tractor that something horrific is going to happen.
It's a 4 for now but more of a 4.5..
I admit I felt some degree of skepticism. There seemed to be contradictions and gaps which needed further explanation. At times I felt it was documenting a nasty family feud while her recollection of family dynamics and its surrounding radical religious fanaticism and paranoia altered in her thinking.
I believed this was a story of overcoming an upbringing in a family of survivalists and poverty.
From what I thought I knew about survivalism, people lived off the grid, but there was mention of TV, computer, phone, camera, etc. The parents chose to live in an atypical manner, driven by the eccentric father’s belief that Armageddon or Judgement Day was rapidly approaching. I could not classify the family as impoverished. There were vehicles, often wrecked in accidents which needed expensive repairs or replacement. They had expensive heavy duty machinery for construction and the junkyard business they owned.
There was also the fear that the feared government agents would invade the family property and weapons were stockpiled. The father persuaded his wife to concoct natural medicines from herbs to sell as remedies for various illnesses. No medical intervention or hospitals were permitted despite dreadful injuries occurring at the workplace. The mother also worked as a midwife. The family also spent time preserving countless jars of peaches for the ‘end time’.
The children lacked birth certificates and were not permitted to attend school, and forced to work under dangerous conditions in the junkyard and construction. Each youngster slept with a ‘run for the hills’ backpack in case of a standoff by government law enforcement. The author describes herself and the home as often dirty and smelly, and not having soap. In spite of her description of a strict home, she went out on dates, performed in musicals at a nearby theatre and occasionally worked outside the home. Three of the children have PHDs and the parents have become millionaires through their natural medicine business.
I felt detached from the author’s story thinking I was being forced to feel for her hard work and emotional upheavals, and there were parts missing in her recollections and information. We were only getting one side of the dysfunctional family story. There is no doubt that she was emotionally abused and injured by an older brother and the parents and in-laws could not be trusted to uphold her accusations.
Some credibility issues arose in her education. That she was able, with no schooling, to teach herself enough to obtain very high marks on tests and be admitted into prestigious Universities is astounding and admirable. Once at University she soon discovered her knowledge of recent history was woefully inadequate. She had never heard of the Holocaust or the Civil Rights movement. Funding was a mystery. Grants and Scholarships only cover so much, but she did not seem to be a typical impoverished student as there were many return overseas flights from Cambridge University to home, and also vacations in Rome and Paris.
I finished the book feeling disconnected from her, and wanted to know how her life is like now, whether she is completely estranged from her family, and what her goals are for the future.
A powerful and gripping read which makes you feel grateful for your own childhood.
I can’t believe Tara has achieved so much after the years with her dysfunctional family; her accident prone father, his radical beliefs, her evil older brother Shawn and her mentally scarred mother.
I loved how Tara’s quest to learn never went away, it kept encouraging her to look outside the farm and the mountain.
I got used to her father’s odd ways, but what I did struggle with was her older brother Shawn and the things he did to Tara.
I don’t normally read memoirs but I am glad I did with this.
Tara Westover tells the story of her childhood and upbringing with such descriptive narrative that it’s easy to see the farm and mountain where she grew up and to imagine what it must have been like to be a young girl in her family house.
When the first incidents start to appear one is held in a kind of shock. This is horrible, so wrong, so very wrong that she is treated like this and we wait for someone to recognise the abuse and intervene and put a stop to it.
But the interventions never come and with each successive incident of abuse, violence and gross neglect we read on in increasing disbelief and horror that no one has stopped these people, called them out on what they are doing and stepped in to protect the victims.
Tara tells her life story so skilfully, she somehow allows us to experience what she went through and yet disassociate from the worst parts simultaneously in the same way she did. It’s such brilliant brilliant writing technique to tell us and yet show us in the same sentence. Offering narrative of what her future self came to understand was happening to her, she relays at the same time perfectly how the young girl she was then lived it.
With either carefully crafted intention or from therapeutic necessity (or maybe both) she leads the reader to flow through the story narrative smoothly and expertly and then stop abruptly when an incident happens. The way she writes and explains each incident forces a rereading of the paragraph more than once, for suddenly there’s a change in pace here and it’s relayed from a disassociated perspective whilst still remaining in the first person.
I can’t help thinking that this emulates in part the way she herself must have visited and revisited these same incidents repeatedly in her head and in her journal to try to make sense of what has happening to her. Except she somehow found a way to normalise it so she could continue to survive and function in such a dangerous hostile environment.
Truly it’s such marvellous intelligent writing and all the more painful for it. We feel a truer impact of her painful incredible story and feel for her in a way that is at once frustrating because we are powerless ourselves to step in and save her from the people who are her family. Or even perhaps to save them all from themselves.
It’s interesting that this is domestic abuse and violence in full flow but Tara never calls it that in the book, save a indicative third party reference in the end. She reaches for instead repeatedly, an understanding of why her family behaved the way they did. Her love for them and need not to unfairly label them, even whilst recalling such pain, is obvious even here.
In some ways the second and last part of the book are more heartbreaking and haunting. Whilst clearly all the physical wounds have healed and by the power of her own internal will, strength, resilience and focus and determination she has transformed her life into what any of us would applaud as a brilliant success (and most of us can only aspire to in our dreams), there is a feeling that this is all overshadowed by the pain of her cruel and unfair eviction from the family.
She describes the effects of their gaslighting with disturbing clarity. Physical violence is one thing but to undermine and eradicate a person’s sense of reality and self belief is an abhorrent abuse that leaves no visible scars, yet has a destructive force that can demolish a life from the inside out.
There’s a sense that even with her intellectual understanding, she still underneath it all keenly feels she’s had to pay a high price for her personal safety, success and happiness. That whilst more than half of her family have cruelly rejected and evicted her and continue to slander her in attempt to regain lost power and control, she still feels love and undercurrents of loyalty towards them even whilst she knows she can no longer concede to the abuse.
The book is an excellent example of the devastating cost an absence of education and self-belief can have. What Tara Westover doesn’t emphasise and is notably non-vocal and modest about is her own inspiring inner strength and brilliance as a human being.
One can’t help but feel that in the absence of having a family who appreciated their incredible good fortune to have such a remarkable daughter in their lives and who lived up to their responsibilities, she at some point is finally able to fully let go of them within herself. To fully let go of that innate desire to have the love and regard of her parents. Is this ever truly possible for a child, even an adult one? That’s debateable but if anyone deserves to be happy and free and lighthearted and at true peace within herself, it’s undoubtedly Tara Westover.
There's a LOT to get from her memoir. But the crux, the power of education? It's awe-inspiring. Her transformation can be experienced first hand through this account.
This is one of my top three memoirs, all time. Highly recommended!
This is a story about relationships and the power our parents and siblings have over us, the power to elevate and to destroy. I felt the author handled the unreliability of memories with such grace and honesty. Her pain and resilience under extreme circumstances, (although to her they were fairly normal) is depicted with real appreciation for the individual characters and what each has suffered and how that experience ultimately elicites their responses.
It is a grueling account of an absolutely horrendous childhood and young adulthood and I believe every word the author writes. I was horrified at the violence, the emotional abuse, the neglect, and the fact that good people stood idly by and allowed this all to happen. It is true that evil prevails when good people do nothing.
The book is well written, without self pity and it portrays immense resilience in a young - but obviously very intelligent - girl who succeeds to top level at top universities. In that she is unusual - many would never get to that level , even with above average intelligence, determination and hard work.
What does not hold true for me is that - despite knowing how horrible her father and mother were, how dangerous and evil her brother Shawn was, how utterly destructive and dangerous her environment was, she kept going back there....even now, she holds hopes of reconciliation. It simply does not hang together for me...In an interview she mentions that education involved holding a view on something whilst accepting that others hold divergent views. Acceptance of such destructive, violent, abusive behaviour is never a valid thing; the only way to deal with that is complete rejection. There is nothing valid to be harvested from such horrific evil. There is no excuse, no illness, nothing that justifies allowing this behaviour. That message is missing from the book, and it is a huge gap for me. The author is still young, perhaps too young for this type of resolution. Maybe writing and publishing the book is a way of seeking support? The purpose of the book would be an interesting topic for future interviews with the author, and may establish some resolution.
I can honestly say I'm not the same person after reading it. It's a book that I can't put down, and yet I don't want to end. I know Tara's story will stay with me for a very, very long time.