Tara Westover’s ‘Educated’ – An “extraordinary memoir”

"a story of incredible flexibility of mind, strength, and plasticity of life". Credit: Penguin Random House.

By Malgorzata Rudnicka | Contributor

“An educated person is not someone that can recite an army of facts and knows a lot of things, but rather it is someone that has the flexibility of mind. Someone that is willing to explore her own prejudice and has acquired a depth of understanding that allows her to see the world through another point of view.”

~ Tara Westover in conversation with Jeffrey Goldberg, 2019.

Those two sentences, somehow exceptionally powerful, are the ones that I remembered most from Westover’s conversation with Jeffrey Goldberg. And that is what her memoir is easily described by – exceptionally powerful. 

‘Educated’ by Tara Westover is a story of incredible flexibility of mind, strength, and plasticity of life. Tara, based on her recollections, journals, and family members’ accounts, recreates her experience. Going from a survivalist Mormon family from Idaho to completing her PhD at the University of Cambridge, she tells the spectacular story of how education shapes life.

“Educated is a story of incredible flexibility of mind, strength, and plasticity of life.”

Until the age of 17, Tara Westover had not had any form of formal education. Before that, her life consisted of working on her father’s junkyard and helping her mother with midwifery and herbalism. A childhood filled with physical and emotional abuse made her enter her adult life with distrust towards the government and medical establishments. It was only when she enrolled at Brigham Young University that she heard, for the first time, about Holocaust and the Civil Rights movement. 

Her marvellous ability to self-teach made it seem necessary for her story to have gone the way it did. Yet, reading the book, I got the impression of a weird naturalness in which particular things came to her life.

Certain people and situations seemed to have guided her towards different opportunities. Westover herself noticed how the choices people make combine to create certain outcomes, like “grains of sand incalculable, pressing into sediment, then rock.” – Those grains of sand helped her rewire her brain and open it to the world. 

For me, the story is largely about the polarity of the world in which we live. For most, the eccentric way of life of Tara Westover’s family in Educated seems simply unthinkable. It becomes easy to formulate the “us versus them” narrative – one’s profanity versus the other’s godliness, one’s trust in modern medicine versus the other’s hatred towards any medical institutions.

The dispute over the roots of those anomalies is undeniably complex, and Tara’s story allows us to observe one’s transition between the two distant stands. It is unimaginable what strength is required to challenge oneself to this extent and what changes must occur in one’s mind while rediscovering the world. 

This story of a sacrifice in the name of education is a position that cannot be missed. Besides being a fantastic book, this memoir is a reminder of what a privilege, but also a necessity, education is.

“This memoir is a reminder of what a privilege, but also a necessity, education is.”

In “Educated” it is the protagonist herself that does the storytelling. She made the narrative clear and well-paced, so the story unravels steadily. Different facts from Westover’s life, as well as different problems she faces, appear gradually.

Although Tara Westover presents the story from her point of view, she seems to have done it in an unbiased manner. Despite all the traumatic events, she is never spiteful or judgmental towards her parents or siblings. The tone is calm, and, at times, I even craved for her account to be more impassioned.

Tara Westover’s Educated is the kind of book that makes you want to stop yourself from turning another page, just not to finish it too soon. Engaging from the first to the last page, it is thought-provoking and truly inspirational.

This extraordinary memoir is most definitely a book that I will inevitably come back to.



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