Educated by Tara Westover


Educated by Tara Westover

Educated reads like a novel but is a true story of the kind that is almost impossible to believe.

Tara Westover grew up on a mountainside in Idaho in a mormon survivalist family. The winters were harsh and isolating, the summers spent canning fruit, collecting weapons, learning morse code and planning for the end of the world. Tara and her five siblings, several of which were not even registered at birth, are not allowed to attend school, but spend instead their days working with their father in his scrapyard or making herbal mixtures with their midwife mother.

It is a life dominated by fear, isolation, injuries and pain inflicted by parents and siblings suffering from emotional and psychological challenges that go untreated and undetected.

The family’s conviction that the government is out to get them, that they will not be allowed to live according to their norms and beliefs and that they must therefore always be prepared to defend themselves against the outside world leads to life threatening decisions and a paranoia that colors their every move.

More than anything Tara experiences a world where there is absolutely no room for dissent, no allowance for different choices or outside voices. Even as she starts to slowly move away, to separate herself emotionally and physically from her parents and even years later when she finds herself in an entirely different life, she struggles to trust her own voice and her own strength:

“Not knowing for certain, but refusing to give way to those who claim certainty, was a privilege I had never allowed myself. My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.”

Tara Westover’s story is one of resilience, courage and grit. She succeeds in catapulting herself from no schooling to university, first in Utah and later at Cambridge and Harvard. Every decision comes with its own price tag and it is fascinating to watch Tara realize that education is so much more than math, reading and writing. It is about community, about friendships and about understanding social and cultural norms.

It is difficult to imagine what it must be like to grow up thinking that yours is the only world, only to realize at the age of 17 that everyone has lived in a different world. One where you don't have to sleep with a packed backpack under your bed ready for the world to go under; a world where historical and scientific facts matter and a world where the government, schools and doctors are your friends not your enemies.

Educated reminded me in many ways of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. It too was the hard to believe story of a young girl growing up under circumstances that were at once, strange, terrible and fascinating. But what the two books mainly have in common is a lack of sentimentality which becomes both authors and both books. Neither woman sees herself as a victim and neither woman hates her family; both women genuinely try to understand the choices their parents made and both women rise above and go way beyond what could reasonably have been expected of them. And for that they deserve our admiration.

Educated is a fascinating and riveting read. You won’t be able to put it down - Happy reading! 

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Hannah Gough