31st January, 2019

Review: Educated by Tara Westover (Random House)

Wow! This was a very emotional read  for me (or rather "listen", as it was an audiobook). I didn't fully love it but it did keep me hooked throughout. But let's start with a quick synopsis. Here is how Goodreads describes the book:

"Tara Westover was already seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her 'head-for-the-hills bag'. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father's junkyard. Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara's older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she'd traveled too far, if there was still a way home."

I tremendously enjoyed this memoir, even though that may be the wrong word to describe my experience of reading about a brainwashed childhood and domestic abuse. What I mean is that I felt that the author's voice perfectly described the problems of being born into a family of fundamentally religious, extremist preppers. I sometimes found myself wondering how Tara couldn't possibly have realised what was going on (for example, I was constantly rooting for Tara to finally kick her brother Sean in the balls for all the things he did to her and annoyed at her passivity), but then I guess that is exactly the dilemma: If you are raised within such a family, one that keeps itself a closed system, I'm sure it will be almost impossible to see the bigger picture and you'll have no understanding of the gaslighting and abuse that is happening. Especially those passages that detailed the violence, blackmail and brainwashing were horrible to read and sometimes difficult to stomach, but they also explained a lot. After all, the extreme challenge for anyone who grew up like the author is the insidious belief that every abused child fosters: this is just how things are,it is my fault and I deserve it.

Only when Tara walked away and experienced the outside world was she able to gain insight and to reinvent herself. Her beautifully written book is an account of that struggle, a coming-of-age story full of humour and honesty, a story that portrays the opportunities a good education has in store. I believe that Educated is a very important book because it does exactly what its title suggests: it educates. And hopefully, it will raise awareness for the victims of such fundamentalist systems (no matter which kind) and prevent them from being condemned by the unknowing public.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

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