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5.0 out of 5 starsOvercoming the gaslighting
Reviewed in the United States on April 8, 2018
In the interest of full disclosure, I'm the Drew from this book, and although Tara and I are no longer together I’ve met all of the key figures in this book on many occasions. Although I don’t have as intimate a knowledge of growing up in the Westover family as a sibling would, I observed first hand everything Tara describes in the third part of the book and heard many stories about earlier events, not just from Tara, but from siblings, cousins, and her parents themselves. I find the claims of factual inaccuracy that have come up among these reviews to be strange for two reasons. First, in a post-James Frey (“A Million Little Pieces”) world, publishers are incredibly careful with memoirs and “Educated” was extensively fact checked before publication. Second, no one claiming factual inaccuracy can do so with any precision. While every Westover sibling, as well as their neighbors and friends, will have different perspectives and different memories, it is very difficult to dispute the core facts of this book. “Educated” is about abuse, and the way in which both abusers and their enablers distort reality for the victims. It’s about the importance of gaining your own understanding of the world so you’re not dependent on the narratives imposed on you by others. I’ve heard Tara’s parents attack schools and universities, doctors and modern medicine, but more importantly, I’ve seen her parents work tirelessly to create a world where Shawn’s abuse was minimized or denied outright. I’ve seen them try to create a world where Tara was insane or possessed in order to protect a violent and unstable brother. I was with her in Cambridge when Shawn was calling with death threats, then saw her mother completely trivialize the experience. For Tara’s parents, allegiance to the family is paramount, and allegiance to the family requires you to accept her father’s view of the world, where violence is acceptable and asking for change is a crime.
Reviewed in the United States on December 22, 2018
Yes, I believe the abuse and also the gaslighting from her parents and family members. But a lot of her story rang false to me.
1. Tara Westover grew up in the 1990s (not the 1890s) and much of this memoir covers that time period. Although her family had a television, telephone and computer, she describes her family in this TV-folksy way as if took place around the time of "Little House on the Prairie." Her father's dialogue alone: He refers to school as "book learning" and at one point asks to know "about them classes." She calls her mother "Mother" yet in a quoted email toward the end of the book she calls her "Mom," which is a lot more likely for someone born in 1986 (not 1886.) Her father says Tara is getting "uppity" when she decides she wants some of that thar book learnin'.
2. Tara is playing the lead in the town's musicals as a young teen and taking dance and piano classes yet she is so naive about clothes and has so few that we are treated to the following scene, a la Laura Ingalls, when "Mother" takes her to Aunt Angie's house to get a dress:
"Angie... laid out an armful of dresses, each so fine, with such intricate lace patterns and delicately tied bows, that at first I was afraid to touch them.... "You should take this one," Angie said, passing me a navy dress with white braided cords arranged across the bodice. I took the dress, along with another made of red velvet collared with white lace, and Mother and I drove home."
What, no butter churn?
Remember, Tara is not isolated "off the grid." She's in town playing the LEAD in "Annie" as a kid, around other kids who presumably weren't so "isolated." Yet at 15 she's saying she thought Europe was a continent and didn't know where France was. Then again she's careful to say her father only watched "The Honeymooners" reruns on TV -- even though her father, who is in his mid to late 50s, was not even born when "The Honeymooners" originally played on TV.
Tara Westover grew up in the same era as Vanilla Ice, "Beverly Hills 90210," "Saved by the Bell" and MC Hammer but apparently none of those other "book learning" kids in town mentioned this. Pretty much the only pop culture references in the book involve Ralph and Alice Kramden.
3. Harrowing, near-fatal accidents appear in what to seem to be every other chapter. The injured family members hardly ever go to the hospital, emerging from unconsciousness, brain injuries, bloody limbs, or burns and more fairly unscathed a few months later each time.
Her mother is left apparently brain damaged after one terrible car accident. She never sees a doctor despite weeks of migraines and a lot of time spent in the darkened basement. She recovers, of course, enough to run a lucrative, essential oils business, Butterfly Quality Essential Oils, that employs many in the Westover family. This business is rarely mentioned in the book and instead it seems as if the Westover made their living working in "the junkyard."
Abusive brother Shawn is in two horrendous accidents - he falls in the junkyard, is knocked unconscious and yet "lived through the night." Later he has a motorcycle accident and Tara can see his brain through a hole in his forehead. "His brain, I can see it!" she cries on the phone to Dad. Shawn winds up in the hospital but the hole in his brain? No biggie. He recovers.
Luke's arm is gashed through to the bone while working one of the family's junkyard machines. (Tara also gets a gash in her leg from a farm injury. There is a lot of bloody "gashes" in this book. The family German shepherd is apparently chopped to death by Shawn.) Another time Luke also gets badly burned in a fire and all they do is stick his leg in a garbage pail to cool it down. He recovers without a doctor of course.
Dad is horribly burned, or so Tara says, in yet another accident involving a fuel tank on their property which leaves his "insides charred." He "still had a forehead a nose... but below his nose, nothing was where it should be. Red, mangled, sagging, it looked like a plastic drama mask that had been held to close to a candle."
Tara sees her mother take a butter knife to "pry my father's ears from his skull." He never sees a doctor for these life-threatening burns but recovers well enough to return to work. He is also pictured on his wife's Facebook page in a 2009 photo (taken after the burn accident) and his face looks normal.
There's yet another bad car accident, in which Dad drives so fast their van crashes into the snowdrifts, upside down. Tara winds up unconscious but doesn't go to the hospital. Her mother calls in an energy healer. Tara recovers.
4. When she's about 15, uneducated, mainly unschooled Tara decides she wants to take the ACT. She drives (by herself) into town to buy an ACT study guide. She scans the first page and doesn't understand the symbols. "What's this?" she asks Mother. "Math," says Mother.
Yet within a few months, Tara goes from teaching herself the multiplication tables to mastering trigonometry - enough to ace the ACT test. The accidents that befall the Westover family and the abuse Tara suffers at the hands of her brother Shawn are described in depth; her "Education" is not.
She goes from a 15-year-old who can't identify math symbols to acceptance at Brigham Young University and then - poof - acceptance for study abroad at Cambridge at 17 where her smitten professor says her essay is the best he's ever read. From there it's on to Harvard with a lot of traveling to London, Paris, Rome and even a quick trip to the Middle Eastern desert.
Favorite quote from the book? She is at BYU in her dorm room, studying with roommates.
I expected this book to be more redemptive, and it finally left me rather depressed. I suppose I was waiting for the author's vindication, and I probably wanted a bit of retribution to fall on those appalling parents and that horrible brother. It is hard to believe this was happening during the 21st century, and I admire the author for her ultimate escape, though I was frustrated by the number of times she returned home and faced more abuse. Don't want to re-read it.
Some autobiographical memoirs of traumatic childhoods are self-pitying and self- absorbed. This one is not. The author gives a balanced picture of her troubled family,in which madness is combined with ingenuity, intelligence and grit, and of the wider Mormon community in which she grew up. It provides a fascinating insight into the complex effects of mental illness on family relationships and the individual. It is also a moving story of one individual's successful struggle to overcome those effects and live a satisfying life.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 17, 2018
Usually I take issue with someone younger than me churning out a memoir. On this occasion I’m all for it. This is a stonker. I couldn’t believe that it’s based in the late 20th and early 21st century. I kept slipping into an assumption that it was 1960s America.
I read a review in a broadsheet that mentioned Westover’s author’s voice being distant and a little cold. I didn’t feel this at all. I felt it was all the more powerful for not being doused in flowery descriptions. It was clear and real and honest.
I like the references to how reliable a storyteller is, how our memories differ and how, in real life we have to find a way of weaving varying recollections to find a truth.
It’s an anthem to the power of education and knowledge. Fascinating and incredibly readable. The numerous accidents felt like the tense moments in an episode of Casualty. You know whenever there’s a scene with a tractor that something horrific is going to happen.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 25, 2018
A remarkable book , written by a remarkable person. Brought up by parents who were fanatical Mormons, she had to suffer threats and aggression from a dysfunctional brother, a childhood without any formal education and repeated pronouncements that the end of the world was nigh. Despite spending much of her pre- pubertal years as an unpaid labourer, she contrived to turn her life around and ended up as a scholar in both Cambridge and Oxford. Inevitably, she had great difficulty in maintaining relationships largely because core facts about history and life outside the teachings of the Mormon Church were a blank page to her. She had never heard of the Holocaust; knew nothing of the World Wars and was told that the authorities had murdered members of another Mormon family because of their faith. Despite all of these encumbrances, she became a highly respected academic. Her success was bought at the price of her family relationships but she came to accept that cost. The book can be a little fragmentary with no continuous chronological line, but it is a compelling read which I will not easily forget.
3.0 out of 5 starsTestimony to following ones dreams and overcoming obstacles
Reviewed in Canada on January 8, 2019
I read this book with conflicting sentiments and reactions. It has been compared with The Glass Castle, a memoir which I loved. Educated is a testimony of following one’s ambitions and dreams while overcoming overwhelming obstacles and hardships. It is an inspiring story of the drive for self-realization and while overcoming doubts, guilt, self-worth, and unhealthy family ties and beliefs.
I admit I felt some degree of skepticism. There seemed to be contradictions and gaps which needed further explanation. At times I felt it was documenting a nasty family feud while her recollection of family dynamics and its surrounding radical religious fanaticism and paranoia altered in her thinking. I believed this was a story of overcoming an upbringing in a family of survivalists and poverty.
From what I thought I knew about survivalism, people lived off the grid, but there was mention of TV, computer, phone, camera, etc. The parents chose to live in an atypical manner, driven by the eccentric father’s belief that Armageddon or Judgement Day was rapidly approaching. I could not classify the family as impoverished. There were vehicles, often wrecked in accidents which needed expensive repairs or replacement. They had expensive heavy duty machinery for construction and the junkyard business they owned.
There was also the fear that the feared government agents would invade the family property and weapons were stockpiled. The father persuaded his wife to concoct natural medicines from herbs to sell as remedies for various illnesses. No medical intervention or hospitals were permitted despite dreadful injuries occurring at the workplace. The mother also worked as a midwife. The family also spent time preserving countless jars of peaches for the ‘end time’.
The children lacked birth certificates and were not permitted to attend school, and forced to work under dangerous conditions in the junkyard and construction. Each youngster slept with a ‘run for the hills’ backpack in case of a standoff by government law enforcement. The author describes herself and the home as often dirty and smelly, and not having soap. In spite of her description of a strict home, she went out on dates, performed in musicals at a nearby theatre and occasionally worked outside the home. Three of the children have PHDs and the parents have become millionaires through their natural medicine business.
I felt detached from the author’s story thinking I was being forced to feel for her hard work and emotional upheavals, and there were parts missing in her recollections and information. We were only getting one side of the dysfunctional family story. There is no doubt that she was emotionally abused and injured by an older brother and the parents and in-laws could not be trusted to uphold her accusations.
Some credibility issues arose in her education. That she was able, with no schooling, to teach herself enough to obtain very high marks on tests and be admitted into prestigious Universities is astounding and admirable. Once at University she soon discovered her knowledge of recent history was woefully inadequate. She had never heard of the Holocaust or the Civil Rights movement. Funding was a mystery. Grants and Scholarships only cover so much, but she did not seem to be a typical impoverished student as there were many return overseas flights from Cambridge University to home, and also vacations in Rome and Paris.
I finished the book feeling disconnected from her, and wanted to know how her life is like now, whether she is completely estranged from her family, and what her goals are for the future.