You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education.
Goodreads Choice 2018 winner, Educated by Tara Westover had been on my TBR for a long time, and I finally got around to reading it. Dubbed by Bill Gates, “as the kind of book everyone will enjoy,” it surely makes for a fascinating read.
Tara Westover was born to a Mormon family in rural Idaho. Her father, to put it mildly, had some ‘unconventional beliefs’ which greatly shaped the eccentric reality of his family. He prepared for the end of the world, believed schools and hospitals were institutions run by the Illuminati and considered himself a custodian of the true will of God. These beliefs weren’t conspiracies he floated at dinner table conversations, rather, he believed them with such vigor, that the first time Tara stepped into a classroom was when she turned 17 and for much of her childhood, she had no medical records, not even a birth certificate.
Tara’s story is incredible in many ways. It is a story so unbelievable, many have gone as far as doubting its credibility. From a girl working in her father’s junkyard, for whom words like “Holocaust” and “Napolean” made no sense, she goes on to study history at Brigham Young University, bagging a Gates Cambridge Scholarship and receiving her MPhil and Ph.D. in intellectual history from Trinity College, Cambridge. From the Tara of Buck’s peak, she transforms into Dr. Westover. Yet, the real transformation that takes place is much deeper, messier, and painful than can be captured in titles.
Educated is enormously inspiring in the leaps taken by Tara to educate herself. In the words of Gates, “I thought I was pretty good at teaching myself- until I read Tara Westover’s memoir Educated. Her ability to learn on her own blows mine right out of the water.”
Sunday Times calls it “Joyous” while the Literary Review calls it “Heartbreaking”, and both these adjectives stand to be true. It is joyous in Tara’s journey of finding her voice, breaking away from shackles of her old life, and triumphing in the pursuit of education. Yet it is heartbreaking in the multiple instances of physical and psychological abuse, in the many horrific accounts of accidents & crises, and the feeling of not fitting in and never being enough. And most importantly, Tara’s pressing need to sever ties with her family as the only means of escape.
The book also raised many questions for me.
What does it truly mean to be educated? What lengths could one’s beliefs drive them to? How do you cut yourself off from the only people you have ever known and loved? How far-reaching can be the effects of one man’s disorder on his entire family?
There are a few more questions, particularly those relating to the storyline, that have been left unanswered. As many point out, the story lacks closure, and perhaps it was too early to write a memoir. But each time I think of this, I am pulled back to what Tara says at the very end:
“We are all more complicated than the roles we are assigned in stories. Nothing has revealed the truth to me more than writing this memoir- trying to pin down people I love on paper, to capture the whole meaning of them in a few words, which is of course impossible. This is the best I can do: to tell the other story next to the one I remember. Of a summer day, a fire, the scent of charred flesh, and a father helping his son down the mountain.”
A few thoughts I had while reading/ Big Takeaways
On Cause and Effect
Not a single outcome is ever caused by a single action, or the result of one individual’s efforts, choices, or decisions. So many factors, most invisible, finally shape our reality. It is almost impossible to ever properly establish a cause-effect relationship, especially in the matters of a person’s life.
Trauma and abuse can be so damaging, kindness starts to taste like poison.
Endurance is a tricky thing. If Tara lacked it, she would have never achieved her academic laurels. But if she had it in abundant measure, she wouldn’t have found the courage to step out of her past. She would have stuck with it, enduring the abuse without questioning. What is required, I presume, is endurance in the right measure and in the right place.
Education is the search for a unique voice. It is meant to empower.
Topics to research (inspired by the book):
The most powerful advantage of money, is the ability to think of things besides money — pg 240
Curiosity is a luxury reserved for the financially secure — pg 235
If I was insane, everything could be made to make sense. If I was sane, nothing could. — pg 339
It’s comforting to think that defect is mine because that means it is under my power. — pg 227
I could tolerate any form of cruelty better than kindness. Praise was poison to me, I choked on it. — pg 277
The choices people make, together and on their own that combine to produce any single event. Grains of sand, incalculable, pressing into sediment, then rock. — pg 49
You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education. — pg 377
I wondered if how I had started is how I would end- if the first shape a person takes is their only true shape — pg 375
In knowing the ground was not ground at all, I hoped I could stand on it -pg 275
The skill I was learning was a crucial one, the patience to read things I could not yet understand — pg 51
But sometimes I think we choose our illnesses because they benefit us in some ways. — pg 312 (Tara’s mum in an email)
Rome, a city that is both a living organism and a fossil. — pg 309
To sanitize the language of segregation is to mute its destructive force — Diane McWhorter — pg 382
New words I encountered:
Fetid: Smelling extremely unpleasant
Reconnaissance: Military observation of a region to locate an enemy or ascertain strategic features.
Percipience: The quality of having sensitive insight or understanding