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BY TARA WESTOVER
Educated is an astonishing powerful and wonderful memoir written by Tara Westover. It tells the story of the author’s life as the seventh child of a strict (non-representative) Mormon family growing up in rural Idaho, where her parents don’t believe in schooling or medicine for their family combined with a total scepticism and fear of federal government. Westover does not know her exact birthday (born in September 1986) or possess a birth certificate until she is 9 years old.
Westover’s father runs a scrap yard and takes on various construction projects making his children work in dangerous situations with no regard for their safety. When accidents inevitably happen, no one goes to hospital, they are treated at home with natural remedies. The family live against the backdrop of Buck’s Peak, a beautiful mountain.
Aged 17, Westover finally begins her education and remarkably goes on to study at Cambridge and Harvard universities. For many years, she struggles with the opportunities her education offers her contrasted with the suffocating but nevertheless loving and strong bonds of her large family, which although flawed are so part of her make-up.
As Westover herself says in an interview – "she left because she wanted something else, not because she didn’t belong. She wanted to find new ideas and go back and belong again." However her parents, especially her father, couldn’t accept her new values and relationships outside their world. Within this, is the physical and emotional abuse her brother Shawn (the only person given a pseudonym) inflicts on the women in the household. When Westover finally has the courage to confront her parents and ask for help, they refuse to acknowledge their son's behaviour, convincing themselves it is in her head. “How can I believe I’m a good person if my mother doesn’t believe I’m a good person?” It is Westover's faith which has enabled her to have a new life going forward.
The writing is thoughtful, poignant, sensitive and totally gripping. Educated is an amazing read which the Reading Den cannot recommend highly enough. It is also worth checking out the various you tube interviews with Tara Westover and listening to Elizabeth Day's podcast. She is a truly inspirational woman who bears no grudges and opens our eyes to an "off-the-grid" upbringing that is hard to imagine can still exist in 21st century America.
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