Educated by Tara Westover
Published by Random House, 334 pages, $28
The product of an extreme Mormon family that rejected doctors and schooling as the work of the devil and the federal government, Tara Westover details her bumpy and fascinating life in her debut book, Educated. The Idaho native and former Harvard fellow later earned a doctorate from Cambridge University in England, and she writes with dazzling grace about working at her father’s junkyard and surviving extreme family violence.
Westover’s mother became an unlicensed midwife and then an herbalist, applying only tinctures to life-threatening injuries. Her dad ranted and raved about the end of times as the family stocked up on canned goods. Westover and some of her six siblings never attended school growing up, but they quietly learned a little bit. Barely qualified, she wiggled her way into Brigham Young University, where teachers mentored her. With her pen—now dipped in the ink of education—she believes she has many selves: self-protective, scared, smart, angry and also more perceptive about her childhood. She recalls horrifying details about injuries involving heavy equipment at her dad’s junkyard—including a spike embedded in her leg—as well as physical abuse inflicted by her tormented brother Shawn and the casual, non-protective ways of her father.
If this were fiction, the graphic horrors of her family would simply be too much to imagine. It’s admirable that Westover can now see this disastrous upbringing and understand it in many ways, not even bitterly. She’s done hard physical—and emotional—labor, experienced trauma and brought her thoughtful, wondering mind to all of it.
From page 42: “He listened to Dad, who settled into a lecture. ‘There’s two kinds of them college professors,’ Dad said. ‘Those who know they’re lying, and those who think they’re telling the truth.’ Dad grinned. ‘Don’t know which is worse, come to think of it, a bona fide agent of the Illuminati who at least knows he’s on the devil’s payroll, or a high-minded professor who thinks his wisdom is greater than God’s.’ He was still grinning.” ◆