Educated: Tara Westover

This memoir deserves all the praise and attention it is being given. I’m actually finding it hard to find the words for the impact this book has had on me.

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Let me start with a brief(ish) synopsis:

Tara grew up in the mountains of Idaho, her parents were survivalists, believing in the End of Days. Her father had such a distrust of society, education and medicine that the family lived in very isolated circumstances; Tara didn’t attend school and even the most severe injuries were only treated at home. An intense man with undiagnosed mental health problems and an extreme belief system, his influence on Tara’s life was immense. Her mother, a midwife, herbalist and healer, comes across as a woman who could stand her ground, who could have moments of great insight, yet who could also be blind to what was happening in her family and ultimately stood by her husband. Because of the isolation from mainstream society, there was no one to intervene when Tara’s older brother became increasingly violent towards her. When another of Tara’s brothers managed to go to college, her view of the world began to change; she educated herself at home and learned enough to achieve a place at a local university, leading to places at Harvard and Cambridge.Westover-imagewith-book-articleLarge

I need to say here that I came to this book with my own experiences of childhood trauma and that I found a kindred spirit in Tara. Though our circumstances and geography differ, there was so much in this book, that made it feel like I was reading about myself: that feeling of being totally alone and that no one would believe you even if you did speak up; the essence of surviving; finding escape and purpose through education; the continuous coming to terms with who I am; the darkness and detachment that at times prevails; forever trying to figure out how I feel about what happened in the past and those who should have been the nurturing, responsible adults in my life; always trying to figure out how I fit into the world now…

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A further reason why I loved this book is the style in which it is written. It could so easily have been a sensationalised piece, it could so easily have been a platform to voice blame and bitterness and portray only the dark side of her upbringing and all the consequences she has faced since leaving that life behind. But she doesn’t. Instead she reminds us that she can only write from her own memories, that memories are personal and can be subjective. She talked to family members about what they could remember to add further perspective. She also shows such a deep understanding of how complex family relationships can be. That there are, despite it all, some moments of tenderness, that it is ok to have happy childhood memories amongst the darkness, and that it is easier said than done to close your heart and cut off contact.  Her emotional honesty shines.

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The strength it took for Tara to explore her story, write it down and share it with an audience is awe -inspiring to be honest. What I will take away from this book is how remarkable women can be in the most challenging of environments, how vital education is and how there are so very many shades of grey when it comes to the people we love.

I shall leave you with a newspaper article and a couple of short videos that I found most interesting – just click the links below:

An interview in The Guardian

A Random House video where Tara speaks on the topic of estrangement

A CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour

 

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