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Educated: A Memoir Hardcover – February 20, 2018
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“Educated shines a light on a part of our country that we too often overlook. Tara Westover’s powerful tale—of trying to find a place for herself in the world, without losing her connection to her family or her beloved home—deserves to be widely read. My Mamaw would have been rooting for Tara.”—J. D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy
“This remarkable memoir—one of the best I’ve ever read—is my kind of miracle. The book made me cringe, cry out, cover my eyes, shake with anger, beam with pride, and appreciate the trials that led to my own education. Tara Westover’s story will find a place alongside modern classic memoirs like Wild and The Glass Castle. It’s that special.”—Susannah Cahalan, author of Brain on Fire
“Breathtaking, heart-wrenching, inspirational—I’ve never read anything like this. Educated tells the story of a young girl’s escape from violence and emotional prison. It is about the love of family and the pain of family both, the ferocity of the human spirit, and the power of education to change lives. Educated is one of the best books, and Westover one of the most gifted writers, that I’ve read in a very long time.”—Amy Chua, Yale law professor and author of Political Tribes and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
“A punch to the gut, a slow burn, a savage indictment, a love letter: Educated somehow contrives to be all these things at once. Tara Westover guides us through the extraordinary western landscape of her coming of age, and in clear, tender prose makes us feel what she felt, growing up among fanatics. Rarely have I read a book that made me so uncomfortable, so enraged, and at the same time so utterly, entirely absorbed.”—Claire Dederer, author of Love and Trouble
“Educated is a wise and deep reflection about surviving one’s family. This is memoir at its best.”—Kelly Corrigan, author of The Middle Place
“Marvelous . . . There is no feeling like discovering a young writer springing up fully armed with so much talent.”—Stephen Fry
“Powerful, moving, brave, naked, and completely at home in its form. This is a daughter’s story of how she grew into herself and came to understand her home. This book would be far less harrowing if it were a novel.”—Mona Simpson, author of Casebook and Anywhere but Here
About the Author
Tara Westover was born in Idaho in 1986. She received her BA from Brigham Young University in 2008 and was subsequently awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. She earned an MPhil from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 2009, and in 2010 was a visiting fellow at Harvard University. She returned to Cambridge, where she was awarded a PhD in history in 2014. Educated is her first book.
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As Tara gets into her preteen and teen years, one older brother in particular starts tormenting her, and the tormenting rises to the level of hugely severe abuse. In part in response to this, she decides to go to college, and by pretty much sheer force of will, does well enough on the ACT to get into Brigham Young University. From there, she starts a storied college career and eventually gets a doctorate from Cambridge. However, each time she is drawn back to the her family, her brother's abuse continues, and the family denial turns more and more severe. The memoir becomes a story of her internal struggle---to believe her own version of her life and to have the strength to break away from her past.
I've struggled with some issues of my own in remembering the past differently than others, and I well know the feeling that the author has over and over. One line, "reality becomes fluid", hit me very hard. When you know something happened a certain way, but others can't accept that reality and attempt to change the past by denying it---Tara Westover is able to write about this so powerfully I was crying at points.
I hope this book gets wide readership. It's an amazing glimpse into a way of life that most of us will never know, and an inspiring story of one woman's ability to change her future.
Educated is one of those books that will grab hold of your psyche without letting go, even after you finish. The riveting prose transfixes from the very first page and will linger in consciousness for days. Tara, a victim of brainwashing and abuse somehow finds her way out of the quagmire of a tangled childhood and into a world filled with endless curiosity, knowledge and wonder.
Tara Westover’s unlikely story from imposed myopic isolationism to profound collegiate achievement reads like a legend. Despite growing up amid danger and dysfunction juxtaposed by herbalism, magical cures and “God’s Will", Tara is a survivor. Her instincts are keenly sharp, conditioned by household doctrine and the unpredictable world of a family detached from reality. Living under the constant fear of the “coming end days” and navigated by a father’s illusions of grandiosity—Tara grapples with the often abusive mercurial circumstances of a fanatical family. Her unconventional childhood is filled with nightmarish scenarios (brace yourself for some graphic scenes) that makes it hard to believe it’s a story taking place in current times. Yet, the compelling tales of reckless parental behavior, extreme piety and deprivation have always existed. Tara bucks the system by rejecting supplication as expected by her strict mormon upbringing. Her toughness and audacity to question her parent’s plans sends her on a triumphant yet rebellious journey of self determination.
As she slowly comes of age, her innate intellectual curiosity and artistic gifts begin to take form. She starts to see a world beyond the hills. Despite insurmountable odds, her gutsy determination and indefatigable spirit help her to break away the suffocating ignorance of her home life. As Tara grapples with change, she slowly begins to shed the heavy burdens of an old life, including overly modest clothing. She supplants it with a new life where she can be a free thinker. Despite parental pressures for absolution, Tara delves deeper into her studies hiding the truth of her embarrassing upbringing from nearly everyone she meets. Her rebirth and transition have their own brand of hardship as she often reflects on her choices, her loyalties to faith and family, her insecurities, and a range of complicated emotions that are transcribed in the book with profound precision. As time goes on, she slowly learns to let go and starts to taste a life that was once forbidden, like trying coffee for the first time. A new universe opens up and there is no going back, ...or is there? As time goes on, Tara attempts to make peace with her erratic childhood experiences and even embraces it by “fashioning a new history” for herself. She becomes a raconteur at dinner parties by telling tales of her haphazard humble beginnings. But then there is a twist, a poignant reminder that some things cannot be fixed, and that making peace with one’s past is NOT easy. “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lives?".
Tara’s memoir is almost always on the edge of angst with very little reprieve. You cannot let your guard down when reading this book - and this is what makes it hard to put down. Just when you think everything is finally okay, something gets stirred up, plunging Tara into a vat of self-doubt that is often debilitating and self-sabotaging. There are times she even questions her own sanity.
It begins with gritty and grueling junkyard labor, bug-out bags, violence, and endless sermons. But as the book progresses, Tara gets a taste of emancipation, self-discovery and the endless curiosity about the big world that she was taught to be so afraid of. Tara Westover’s story is graceful, triumphant, and most importantly, raw, real, and unapologetically human. This is a brave book written by a brilliant woman. I can even see it becoming a screenplay someday.
Despite her upbringing, Westover managed to become a PhD candidate at Cambridge- when she was a young teenager, she began working several jobs in a local town, and saving up for her independence from the abuse and violence she was experiencing at home. Without a single day of formal education, Westover educated herself using a test prep book she bought at a bookstore 40 miles away. From that very humble beginning (including no birth certificate and no one in her family knowing her birth date or even how old she was) she got into college, earned and maintained a scholarship, went to Cambridge on a distance learning program, and eventually went to the UK (and Harvard) for her graduate work.
This is an incredibly written book- only a skilled writer could take the experiences of such a horrifying childhood (basically a giant succession of one abusive experience after the other) and make it readable without being exploitative or too grim to handle. Literally every chapter in this book is an example of how Westover's parents (or abusive older brother, Shawn) either neglected her, forced her to do dangerous things in the name of her father's scrapyard business, or flat out physically or emotionally abused her. It's shocking and there were a lot of times when I wanted to throw this book across the room out of anger, but I think a book like this is important to read because it not only highlights how there are likely children are out there like Westover, suffering under the guise of extreme "family values", but it also is an example of how human beings can be resourceful and resilient, and break the cycle of abuse and ignorance.
The thing about this book that most resonated with me was not Westover's unlikely educational path or her resilience, but the fact that she addresses a common issue that many adult children face: how to reconcile what it means to grow into a different person than who your parents would like you to be. My parents are saints compared to Westover's, but when Westover began talking about what it meant to have to sacrifice her family's desires for her (and ultimately a relationship with them) in order to honor a more meaningful life for herself, I identified with so much of what she had to share. It seems like more and more people are bringing this issue to light- while it's incredibly heart breaking to have to "split" with your family over things like core values and beliefs (and emotional issues), reading Westover's book helped me to feel much more at peace with my own ongoing experience.
So, all in all, Westover's book is one abuse and heartbreak after another, but her courage and the quality of her writing more than make up for the difficult story she has to share. I can't recommend this book enough.