Reviewing Tara Westover’s Educated

I am the child of immigrants. This shaped me and two things which my parents passed down – one unconsciously and one consciously – are:

  1. That the class system is for other people and literally means nothing.
  2. That education is your ticket to freedom.

Education was how I would make my life, gain my independence, and secure my future. It is what would expand my mind, introduce me to views which matched my own, introduce me to view which wouldn’t, and introduce me to views I hadn’t even thought of. However my life and upbringing never meant that I had to fight to get an education, like Tara Westover. She fought tooth and nail to expand her mind and Educated is the story of how she achieved that.

Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days, watching for the sun to darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood. She spent her summers bottling peaches and her winters rotating emergency supplies, hoping that when the World of Men failed, her family would continue on, unaffected. 

She hadn’t been registered for a birth certificate. She had no school records because she’d never set foot in a classroom, and no medical records because her father didn’t believe in doctors or hospitals. According to the state and federal government, she didn’t exist.

As she grew older, her father became more radical, and her brother, more violent. At sixteen Tara decided to educate herself. Her struggle for knowledge would take her far from her Idaho mountains, over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d travelled too far. If there was still a way home.

EDUCATED is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with the severing of the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, from her singular experience Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.

From my point of view and experience, Tara had everything stacked against her. There were times when I was reading Educated when I had no idea how she would ever be able to educate herself.  The fact that she did awed me. The fact that she wrote about her experiences, struggles and education successes with plain, matter-of-fact prose made everything all the more harrowing. Where did she find the strength of will? I was in awe and it made me realise again and again just how precious the gift of education is.

Tara’s drive for education takes her far away from home and all over America and the world. Those scenes were so different from those set in her childhood home that I found them quite jarring. However, this is not a criticism because that jarring sensation I felt constantly reminded me of what she was trying to achieve. There were so many issues she faced that I didn’t even think she would face like not having a birth certificate and no one knowing quite when her birthday was. She didn’t know what the Holocaust was. She didn’t know the historical and racial connotations of the N word.

When I finished Educated I had to take a moment to absorb everything I’d just read. This isn’t a long book but there is so much packed into it and so many emotions that it deserved some reflection. I talked to my mum and she read it soon after me. She doesn’t read non-fiction often and instead prefers her fast paced crime thrillers. Educated she devoured within a day and a night. It is a wonderful, wonderful book. Tara is a determined women and her story is full of grit and hope and yes, education. It’s important because it’s freedom and power.

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