Saturday, July 14, 2018

Educated: a memoir by Tara Westover

When the Gables Book Club chose to read this for our July get together, I tried to borrow it on Overdrive through interlibrary loan. Even though it was a best seller, I did not expect to be 267th on a waiting list for it. And so I ended up buying the Kindle edition when we returned from England since I would only have a few days to read it. I read a bit while on our trip to Kentucky and a couple of ball games, but for the most part I read it in a single setting. Admittedly, this is one of the most difficult books I have ever read in my life. Difficult, not because of the sentence structure or language, but because of how my heart ached for Tara Westover's life. She is truly an example of how much one can accomplish with diligence, perseverance, and good people who believe in you. 

Tara Westover was grew up in Buck's Peak, Idaho with six siblings, the daughter of Mormon survivalist parents. Educated: a memoir is her recounting of that childhood that was lived very much in isolation. Her father was of the belief that the government was evil and out to get you. She had no birth certificate or social security number. He stockpiled fuel and food for when they would need to fight off those who would come for them: the Illuminati. She was home schooled, in reality left to learn on her on behalf. It was the belief that no one could teach you better than if you taught yourself. 

To live in the Westover home, you were controlled by a bipolar, domineering and often sadistic father, who had no qualms about making his children work for him in his junkyard and construction businesses. Your mother was an herbalist and midwife and the family did not believe in modern medicine, doctors, or hospitals. When her older brother decides to leave the family to go to college, Tara is inspired to take that step for herself. She saves money to buy an algebra textbook and studies for the ACT exam. Her ticket out is acceptance to Brigham Young University, where she feels very much the outcast because of the doctrine under which she has had to leave. 

The empathy that the reader feels for Tara is immense. She is abused not only by her father, but also by a brother she calls Shawn (a pseudonym). This in in turn contributes to the self-image that she has of a pretty worthless person. When a break comes her way to attend Cambridge University, she does not know how to respond and she thinks she is unworthy. The reader applauds her when she is able to confront those feelings and become her own person in spite of the consequences she must suffer. 

The frustration that the reader feels over the parenting in this household is palpable. Her father is aggressive and misogynistic. He does nothing but criticize his daughter or shun her. He treats his wife like a servant and she allows that. Tara's mother is taciturn and does nothing to protect her daughter from the abuse she suffers, to the point that when Tara wants to see her mother alone, she refuses to unless her husband is allowed also. 

There are good people in Tara's life who have enabled her to succeed. Among them are the bishop who listens, but does not judge, Dr. Kerry who encourages her to do her best at Cambridge, and Professor Steinburg, who insists she apply for the Cambridge grant. 

A most powerful book for which rereading is meritorious.