Tara Westover grew up in rural Idaho in a deeply dysfunctional Mormon family. Her fanatical father believed the End of Days was fast approaching, so she and her six older siblings spent every summer bottling hundreds of peaches and every winter rotating emergency supplies in the belief that when the end came her family would survive. Prevented by her parents from attending school, Tara has no birth certificate. She also has no medical records, due to her authoritarian father’s extreme aversion to hospitals and doctors of any kind. As far as the state is concerned, she doesn’t exist. Educated by Tara Westover is the remarkable story of her struggle for self-invention.
Tara graduates from helping her mother mix herbal remedies to working in her dad’s scrapyard, a perilous occupation that results in her and her siblings suffering numerous accidents and near misses. She explains, ‘My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute.’
This unsparing memoir documents Tara’s life as she reaches her teens and, encouraged by her older brother Tyler, realises she desperately wants to educate herself. In order to do this, she has to find the enormous strength of will required to break free from her domineering, close-knit family and increasingly abusive mentally-ill brother Shawn.
As she wins places at Cambridge and Harvard and excels academically, she experiences the intense grief that comes with the severing of ties with those closest to her. It is her traumatic childhood that enables Tara to get to the very core of what an education is and what it offers on the deepest level. Its transformative power is exposed as the huge price she has to pay for it.
What moved me most about this memoir was Tara’s complete lack of self–pity regarding the appalling emotional and physical abuse she repeatedly received from those closest to her. Her grit and intelligence shine through as she paints an honest, even loving picture of her troubled family and violent upbringing.
Educated is a reminder of the power that families have both to destroy and set free their members. Tara’s father’s deluded beliefs dominate and damage each of his seven children’s lives, but their love for him remains undimmed. Her resilience and lack of anger towards her estranged family is astonishing and her need for validation is painfully understandable.
Educated by Tara Westover is published by Hutchinson, 400 pages.