Educated, Tara Westover
Updated: May 25
I discovered this book via the podcast ‘How to fail’ from Elizabeth Day. The author, Tara Westover was a guest on season 2, episode 7. I ordered the book the day after. It arrived on Friday, it scarcely left my hands and eyes for a weekend. Monday afternoon it was finished.
I was moved, fascinated, in awe, dumbfounded, overwhelmed. And something else, I can’t quite put my finger on the word that describes that feeling.
This book is the memoir of Tara Westover. You follow her story from her childhood as the youngest of seven children, born to survivalist Mormon parents in the mountains of Idaho. Due to the worldview of her parents, they lived very isolated from the mainstream society. She didn’t go to school, they didn’t go to hospitals or doctors, had no medical records and she only got her birth-certificate when she was nine years old. When an older brother became violent and abusive, there was nobody around to help. At seventeen, after many mental and family struggles, she sat for the first time in a classroom. An education that started at Brigham Young University, lead her over an ocean to Cambridge University and back to Harvard. It transformed her. It changed everything, from the relationship with her parents and brothers to the relationship with herself.
What is described above, can sound like some sensation story, like the ones we sometimes find in a gossip magazine. You know them, when read one of the first reactions is ‘Dear god, so bizarre! So abnormal, that this exists in this world!’ But this isn’t the case for this book.
To me, this book is the story of a person who becomes herself, finds her ‘self’ if you will. Who discovers the freedom to think her own thoughts, her own ideas and feelings. This happens with an enormous amount of trails and tribulations. In the end, it is safe to say that it comes with sacrifices that the child we read about in chapter one can’t even imagine.
This story brings up questions about who we are as a person, a human. How does our family really affect us? What does ‘family’ mean? Can you break ‘free’ from the family you are born into? What are the consequences of ideas you learned in childhood that drag you down a rabbit whole as a grown up? Can you escape them once you discover them? Is escape even the right word? Maybe they are part of ourselves, the self of the child we once where but aren’t anymore. And what about the values we learned and still value, can we embrace them whilst turning our back on the things that broke us? We all encounter different influences, situations, conversations and people along the way in life. These things shape us and change us, teach us to think for ourselves. Like a snake shedding its skin, we outgrow our own self, to be a new version.
I can go on and on in my head with variations of questions and ideas of the above. There are various answers that come to mind immediately. Some require more thought, more education on the subject from my part.
I think everybody will recognise something in this book. Everybody has a family of some kind, with it’s beauty and the difficulties, struggles and fights that come with it. We humans are more complicated than we sometimes realise. It’s easy to fit everybody in a box. Often it turns out that 'boxes' are not enough and people surprise us in ways we couldn't imagine. Positive or negative.
Go read this book. It’s good, it gives food for thought. (A mountain of it to be exact.)