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Friday, June 29, 2018

Book Review: Educated by Tara Westover, narrated by Julia Whelan (audio)

This was a harrowing but compulsive listen. Tara grew up in a fundamentalist Mormon household in Idaho, and somehow, despite no education at all, no support, abuse at the hands of her older brother, and insane indoctrination about the Illuminati, went on to her her Ph.D. from Cambridge. It's obviously fascinating how someone could get from that particular Point A to that Point B, and provides an educated, informed view into a closed-off community. It also provides interesting insights into the mind of someone who has been physically and emotionally abused, and why people keep going back. It had a lot of, "Oh Honey" moments in it, where I wanted to hug her and then lightly smack some sense into her.

Tara's mind must be an amazing place. To have her astonishing intellect, her impressive insights, and her deep understanding of a world most intellectuals dismiss, is to see with new eyes a situation one might assume they superficially understand, but in fact don't at all once you get beneath the top layer. I think most of us, who have not experienced abuse, have really and truly wondered why the abused don't just leave (especially if they're adults--Tara was still a child when her brother started to hurt her, and of course the emotional abuse at her father's hands started well before that.) And for me that was the more interesting and more impactful revelation in this memoir, rather than how did a woman without even a rudimentary home education go to college and on to prestigious graduate schools.

To me, the seminal scene was when she first arrived in Cambridge for a study abroad program as an undergrad and all the faculty and the other students, even the other BYU exchange students, seemed to sophisticated and worldly and confidant--until they were at a chapel where people could climb out of a window onto the roof. Then Tara was the only one who could boldly walk across with utter confidence, as her classmates and professors nervously skittered sideways like terrified crabs. When her professor asked her how she could stand in the strong wind, she pointed out that she could do it exactly as she would do it on the ground. No one ever asks you that on solid ground, no matter how windy it is. It's only the fear or falling that makes the wind seem treacherous. Her incredible perspective was eye-opening.

I get the comparisons to The Glass Castle, but this book completely stands on its own. Tara's story is riveting, educational, and inspirational. The audio version really got me fully immersed. If you are baffled about how, in a family of 6 children who were not even home-schooled, three managed to get Ph.D.s, while the other 3 couldn't even manage to get GEDs, you've got to read this book.

I bought this audiobook from libro.fm, which I subscribe to through Main Street Books in Davidson, NC.

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