Life has been a continuous craze lately, but I’ve determined I have to read more. I’m aiming for a book a week, but I know that is far-fetched considering my kids are home all day. However, I am going to try. And when I read a book that I think needs sharing, I’m going to post about it.
Up first: Educated: a memoir by Tara Westover
An unforgettable memoir about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University
Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her 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. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.
My take (SPOILERS):
Educated is not a light memoir. Tara Westover talks about the brutal reality of her childhood, adolescence, and even adulthood. Raised by radical parents (which do not represent mainstream members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by any means)—survivalists and doom’s day preppers—Tara was taught that anything associated with the Federal Government was corrupt and infiltrated by the devil. She did not have a birth certificate until she was nine years old, she never received immunizations (until well into her graduate programs), she never stepped foot inside a classroom until college, and her parents believed the medical establishment was evil—so no school (public nor home schooled really) and no doctors or hospitals.
The story that follows is heartbreaking. The Westover family ran a junkyard. Their practices fell short of every safety precaution known to man. The injuries were insane—impalements, serious burns, disastrous falls, concussions and traumatic brain injuries, lots and lots of wounds that should have been treated in the hospital. Instead, Tara’s mom treated everything with oils and herbs (and subsequently founded the Butterfly Express Essential Oil Co.). And, to make matters worse, besides the hazards of working with her father, Tara suffered severe emotional and physical abuse at the hands of one of her brothers.
Against all odds, Tara miraculously got into BYU.
And an education changed her life.
I am so impressed with Tara’s tenacity and drive to learn and defy the odds that were thrust upon her. However, I cringed reading about how judgmental she was… She believed 99% of those she met at BYU were “gentiles” or fallen or of the world. I get it—she was a product of her childhood, her parents’ strange ideas. If anything, Tara’s story inspired me to be less judgmental of those I deem “judgmental”. Honestly, we have no idea of another person’s background nor the lens that they see the world through.
My favorite parts of the book came near the end.
In a particularly discouraging time, one of her professors (Dr. Kerry at BYU) urged her to continue her schooling. He said, “You are not fool’s gold, shining only under a particular light. Whomever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were. It was always in you. Not in Cambridge. In you. You are gold. And returning to BYU, or even to that mountain you came from, will not change who you are. It may change how others see you, it may even change how you see yourself—even gold appears dull in some lighting—but thatis the illusion. And it always was.”
Another idea she presented was from Isaiah Berlin’s two concepts about freedom:
- Negative liberty: freedom from external obstacles or constraints
- Positive liberty: freedom from internal constraints
I loved this! I need to read more about these two concepts. She quoted Bob Marley, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.”
Lastly, she spoke about a question sprawled against one of her class boards (Dr. Kerry again): Who writes history? Throughout her education, she had learned that historians were no different than her—SHE wrote part of history. And so can we.
Tara Westover writes a compelling tale of growing up, family loyalty, learning and growing, and how—or if—all of those things can be reconciled. Definitely worth a read 🙂