I don’t know, if I read fifty books annually, like Bill Gates is rumoured to, but I can’t imagine my daily life without reading a few pages, something that is as important for my brain, as it is for my soul. Some books are read & easily forgotten, while others make a huge impact, so much so, you talk or think about them for weeks & months on end. Tara Westover’s ‘Educated’ undoubtedly belongs in the latter category for me.
Initially I saw ‘Educated’ in my local Waterstones & some unseen force drew me to it. As I read about a third of it, riveted by every page & the precisely beautiful way that Tara writes, 5 x 15 hosted one of their events, where Tara was a speaker. A slight, blond young woman in her early thirties, she stood with gracious poise in the limelight, yet she also seemed contained & reserved. Tara has a Doctorate in her professional title, something made even more remarkable, for someone so young, by the fact that she wasn’t schooled in the way most of the children in the Western countries, including America, where Tara is from, are. She held the audience in the palm of her hand, as she talked about her book & read a passage from it, with quiet confidence that I found extraordinary, considering the turmoils of her life’s journey. I left the event deep in thought & even more impressed than before by the resilience, determination & talent.
Tara was born in rural Idaho to the Mormon parents. Her father raised his children by instilling the deep fear of the fast approaching End of Days, wielding unbelievable control over his vast family. He started by alienating his wife from her own family & friends, then proceeding to do the same with each of their children. ‘Us’ versus ‘The World’. And yet there is a sense that in some ways he did love his children & on occasion managed to show glimpses of it to Tara & her siblings, yet his true ‘loyalty’ rested with only those, who were firmly under his control. He was a contradictory man with mental issues, yet this wasn’t questioned by his wife, who chose to defer to him on most occasions. To say that relationships within the family were complicated would be an understatement.
Tara hasn’t been registered for a birth certificate, had no school records, as she didn’t attend classes, nor medical records, as her mother treated the children herself with homeopathy (in time growing a very successful business).
‘When I was a child, I waited for my mind to grow, for my experiences to accumulate and my choices to solidify, taking shape into the likeness of a person. That person, or that likeness of one, had belonged. I was of that mountain, the mountain that had made me.’
As Tara grew, the controlling ways & the violence from one of her brothers increased forcibly, slowly pushing some of the children away from home, in order to live a somewhat fulfilled life, akin to what most of us consider to be routinely ‘normal’. Reading the book, written in a calm, if not serene voice, makes it even more remarkable, considering the various physical & psychological traumas Tara faced, before leaving home & in time gaining not only a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, but later also receiving a MPhil in intellectual history from Trinity College, Cambridge (when she initially started her studies in the public domain, she didn’t even know the meaning of Holocaust ) & a PhD in the same subject six years later.
One of the main themes of this book is the fierce loyalty to the family & the cause, or rather the beliefs of the patriarch, that everyone has to follow precisely, yet there is no sense of self pity or regret of the choices made by Tara. While she still writes to her mother, she has been estranged from her father, sister & several brothers for years. But in some ways, it allowed her to discover where & with who family loyalties truly lie & who is still here to watch over her. Who she is & how remarkably strong she is. Tara has also been lucky to have experienced wonderful mentorship from many people, who having seen her talents, championed & supported her in more ways than one, allowing her to grow, bloom & achieve her full potential. For one, her writing is so mature, I remain in complete awe of her talent & attitude to life. She does’t seem bitter, fractured or angry at the way her life journey has evolved. She comes across level-headed & mature, well above her still young years. Looking at Tara during the event & later continuing to read her book, made me think of a saying ‘what doesn’t break you, makes you stronger’. I also couldn’t help but draw some comparisons recently when watching ‘Patrick Melrose’ series, based on the Edward St. Aubyn novels & pondering how people deal with emotional & physical they suffer in their early years & how it affects them as adults. Some survive & thrive, others can’t get off the path of destruction, on which they were set by the actions of other people, who yielded influences on them in childhood.
In some way Tara’s frank memoir is a lesson to those of us who lamented our own misfortunes, which pale in comparison to the ones that Tara not only experienced, but processed, lived through & emerged from, shining her bright light & walking her path with quite a confidence. One of the most painful, yet uplifting memoirs, which is bound to changed the way your view the process of education, family ties & ability to adapt & thrive despite the hardships, knocks & misfortunes.
For more information about Tara & her work, please click here