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Image / Editorial

Book review: ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover, a truly heart-rending memoir


by Brenna O'Donnell
18th Mar 2018
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Memoirs often get a bad rep. Typically they’re known to be the life’s work of some old, wise soul who has been through it all, and come out with a definitive answer to life’s questions. Educated flips this stereotype on its head, punctures it with iron rods, cuts it with industrial shears and lights it on fire.

Sound intense? These are actually just a few of the heart-rending experiences author Tara Westover witnesses during her upbringing in rural Idaho, USA.  

The daughter of a fanatically religious father and an herbalist healer mother, Tara never received a birth certificate or primary education; her family believed these were brainwashing tools created by the American government. Instead of schooling, Tara and her siblings spent their days helping their father prepare for the End of Days, helping their mother mix herbal “miracle” remedies, and scrapping metal in the family’s junkyard.

You wouldn’t expect a girl with this childhood would end up a Gates Scholar at Cambridge, earning a Fellowship at Harvard and a PhD in Intellectual Thought, all before 29. However, that is precisely what Westover did. Her memoir tells the unlikely story of self-invention through education, while struggling to reconcile her family’s reality with the one she built for herself worlds away.

The book was a slow but rewarding burn. One that kept me on edge at the unpredictability of the Westover family, and left me rooting for Tara through each impossible hurdle in her unstoppable hunt for knowledge. The back of the book provides you with point A and point B, but it’s in the winding, and sometimes hopeless, journey where the heart of her story lies.

As I was reading Westover’s book, I realized that I too, was being educated in a way of life that was previously foreign to me. Many of the lessons that Westover comes to grip with are learned outside the classroom, before she even stepped foot in one.

As a writing major, what struck me most about the book was Westover’s intricate way of weaving her narrative through space and time; no memory is random and each recollection is a colorful burst of detail, always relevant and always unique.

Westover sits down to write this memoir at 28, stating that she wanted to write, “in the chaos of events still unfolding, not in the calm of resolution.” As a young woman in university myself, I couldn’t have been given a better memoir to have read during these pivotal years of young adulthood.

Main image credit: Jude Edington

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