“Educated” by Tara Westover

I have was recommended to read “Educated” by Tara Westover by several friends and colleagues in the past few months. Moreover, this book was featured on Obama’s and Bill Gates’ reading lists. When I saw it in one of the local bookstores, I finally gave in and grabbed a copy. The cashier told me that it was an excellent choice – the book was “touching and frustrating“. I thought it was a peculiar comment to make about the book so I let it slip at that time.

Until I read the book myself. In fact, I did not read it, I swallowed in on my flight to Panama and back. When my plane was landing and I had one chapter left, I was thinking to myself “No, I need to know the end!”. So what is so special about “Educated” by Tara Westover?

The book is the memoir about Tara growing up in the rural Idaho with her Mormon family and the father who believed in the End of Days. The author describes how when she was a child, they would can peaches and dig them in the yard to prepare for the end of the world or how they would bury fuel to make sure they have enough when everything goes to pieces. Her father believed that the government is evil and brainwashes people, so Tara or her siblings never went to school, to the hospital or even had a birth certificate until she was 12. When her mother suffered severely in the accident, they did not bring her to the doctor and she spent months suffering from horrible migraines and staying in the basement. If this all sounds crazy to you, there will be much more in the book. That’s for me was the frustrating part of the book that the cashier in the bookstore mentioned. All I could hear in my head: But why does it have to be this way? Why? Why? Why?

The other frustrating moment of the book was when the author never went to school to get the basic education. She was “educated” at home:

I had been educated in the rhythms of the mountain, rhythms in which change was never fundamental, only cyclical. The same sun appeared each morning, swept over the valley and dropped behind the peak. The snows that fell in winter always melted in the spring. Our lives were cycle – the cycle of the day, the cycle of the seasons – circles of perpetual change that, when complete, meant nothing had changed at all. I believed my family was a part of this immortal pattern, that we were, in some sense, eternal. But eternity belonged only to the mountain.

In some passages of the book, you can also sense that the author was isolated and lonely in her life without any close friends she could confine in as a child and teenager:

The other girls rarely spoke to me, but I loved being there with them. I loved the sensation of conformity. Learning to dance felt like learning to belong. I could memorize the movements and, in doing so, step into their minds, lunging when they lunged, reaching my arms upwards in time with theirs. Sometimes, when I glanced at the mirror and saw the tangle of our twirling forms, I couldn’t immediately discern myself in the crowd. It didn’t matter that I was wearing a gray T-shirt – a goose among swans. We moved together, a single flock.

Despite all this adversity the author faced (for example by asking in the university class what Holocaust was), she managed to teach herself enough math and English to get accepted to the university. After that, she succeeded to study Masters and PhD degrees in the University of Cambridge and was a visiting fellow at Harvard University. During her journey, she was still part of her family, trying to belong until this beliefs highlighted the ignorance that they came with:

But something had shifted nonetheless. I had started on a path of awareness, had perceived something elemental about my brother, my father, myself. I had discerned the ways in which we had been sculpted by a tradition given to us by others, a tradition of which we were either willfully or accidentally ignorant. I had begun to understand that we had lent our voices to a discourse whose sole purpose was to dehumanize and brutalize others – because nurturing that discourse was easier, because retaining powers always feels like the way forward.

No matter what I write about this book, I don’t think I could ever capture it is essence and its depth. The journey that Tara Westover went through to see beyond the beliefs that she was raised with, to overcome the ignorance and falsity, to build her selfhood, to transform is one of a kind. It is frustrating, mesmerizing, touching… Out of all the books that I read in the past three years, if I could recommend the only one, “Educated” will be my choice.

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