Educated: One of the Best Memoirs You’ll Read
I first read about Educated on GatesNotes and I put it on a long list of books. Then, when I finally bought it I ended up giving it out as gift. And so, it remained on that list for another two years. This year I stumbled unto it on offer in a bookshop, such an offer could not be turned down. Today I plan on trying to convince others to read it and I promise it would not be wasted time.
The book market is full of memoirs, biographies and autobiographies. It seems to be a trend for superstars to want to share their lives and many others follow suit. Thus, it becomes quite a challenge to choose anything of quality from this wave. Fortunately, if we search long enough we come upon gems or nuggets of gold. Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated, is one such case. It very much reads like a novel due to the narrative talents of the author, as she tells a human story, her story.
About the author
Tara Westover has a master’s degree from University of Cambridge and was a visiting scholar at Harvard University. Later, she got her PhD in intellectual history. The title was “The Family, Morality and Social Science in Anglo-American Cooperative Thought, 1813–1890”. More recently she spent time at Harvard Kennedy School as a senior research fellow. This seems like a pretty straight-forward academic path. However, her life was far more interesting and very tragic.
Westover was born in Idaho in a Mormon family. Her parents were survivalists who prepared for the End of Days and were distrustful of the federal government. Tara, her sister, and brothers were homeschooled, mostly self-taught. However, she would overcome this unfavourable context and become part of academia. Educated is the story of how she managed to do this. Readers will find themselves shocked, hopeful, and even frustrated at times with Tara’s difficulties in making the hard choices. Yet, as we shall discover, this is far more complex an issue to the individual.
A Social Commentary
It is a difficult challenge to write about the book without revealing too much. Educated has a social commentary component, as it explores how the Mormon community of Idaho is structured. Like any other place there are groups and people are split along ideological and religious lines. Some are more conservative, while others try to adapt to the times. In such context the Mormon community is not necessarily divided, but it is split on lifestyles.
Tara Westover’s contact with the outside world came in steps. She would gradually discover that people were not as evil as her parents thought, that there were joys here which could better suit her own dreams and wishes. However, this was challenging due to the great difference between her upbringing and normal society. Consequently, it is here that the reader, at first, might become frustrated with the protagonist. At least, until she overcomes these hurdles.
An Exploration Into Psychology
The story is not only about Tara Westover, but also about her family. We can follow it on two levels of interpretation. Firstly, the one dealing with them as part of her biography. Here we look at how they interacted with her and how they influenced her development and choices. Three characters take the spotlight in the narrative. The first one is her father, who’s shadow lingers above at all times, given the man’s influence. The second is her mother, on which hopes are placed, but life often has a tendency to crush them. And lastly, her brother Shawn, an abusive figure.
The second level, is the one where Tara tries to reframe both her life and her family. While at university she would try to find a psychological explanation for the delusions of her father. For this, she finds at least a partial answer. However, the exploration of the relationship with her brother Shawn is by far the most interesting aspect. It offers much insight into the mind of those who are abused by family members. She often found herself trying to rationalise the experience, in a sense running away from the ugly truth. Even when she finally tries to confront it a wall appears, constructed by others blaming her.
For those in search of a good memoir, Educated is a must read. For those just looking for another book, the same rule applies. Due to the obvious talent of the author, the narrative style, and the story itself it is doubtful anyone would be left underwhelmed at the end. It invites us to reflect on our own life and choices. Tara Westover makes us try to relate to things we might never come to live and this will intellectually enrich any reader.
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Originally published at https://www.theworldbriefly.com on June 27, 2022.