Book Club: Educated: A Memoir

The first month of our Book Club has come to an end.  I hope that you joined me in reading the book,  Educated: A Memoir (Amazon) by Tara Westover.  I will tell you that I wasn’t sure about the book when I first picked it because I don’t typically read many memoirs.  I have nothing against them.  They just don’t interest me most of the time.  This book, however, grabbed my attention right away and I was hooked.  This is a story about Tara Westover’s life growing up in the mountains of Idaho. In the book she describes her experiences growing up as the daughter of a man who spent his life preparing for the end of days, or the Days of Abomination as he called it. Her father was a man of many words who truly believed that not only was the government a conspiracy out to get him but that the world was coming to an end.  He refused to send his 7 children to public school for fear that it would brainwash them and lead them away from God. Four of the seven children did not even have birth certificates (didn’t even know their exact birth date) because he thought it was better if the government did not know of their existence. He also believed that hospitals and doctors were also the work of the devil and refused to get medical attention even in the worst of accidents such as a traumatic brain injury or severe burns. Tara’s mom was an herbalist and later a non-licensed midwife who created her own medicines and tinctures from herbs and essential oils. She went along with all of her husband’s beliefs and followed whatever he dictated. Where did these irrational thoughts and beliefs come from? Some would say that he was mentally ill, bipolar.  Some would say that it came from radical Mormon beliefs from “prophets” like Joseph Smith. Others would say that the fears came after the incident at Ruby Ridge where Randy Weaver and his family were in an eleven day standoff with US Marshalls and FBI over firearm charges where 3 individuals were killed including Weaver’s wife and son. He believed the same could happen to him because he didn’t send his kids to school. Maybe it was a combination of all three. Whatever the reason, his beliefs were certainly not the norm and had a deep psychological impact on Tara’s life. The story depicts her struggles against following her parents and their beliefs and her desire to learn. Tara began her education at the age of 17 at BYU. She overcame the odds stacked against her and eventually earned her PhD ten years after she first set foot onto BYU’s campus. 

I found this book to be fascinating, especially when I considered that it is a true story.  I was baffled that there are people in this world today that have these crazy beliefs and ways of life. She is about 10 years younger than I am and to think that these things happened to her in this day and age is unimaginable.  She suffered abuse at the hands of both of her parents as well as mental and physical abuse from her brother, Shawn. In one chapter she wrote, “’It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you,’ I had written in my journal. But Shawn had more power over me than I could possibly have imagined. He had defined me to myself, and there’s no greater power than that.” Isn’t that true sometimes of all of us? We are defined by the people in our lives who molded and shaped us. How grateful am I that the people that defined me were not ones that always tore me down and made me feel small and insignificant like Tara? She fought hard to rewrite her story, to become someone better than her family defined her as.  I am inspired by her strength and will to move forward with her education.  It is truly amazing to look at where she started and see where she is now. Here is another quote from the book that really stood out to me.  It comes from a conversation with one of her professors at Cambridge.  He said to her, “The most powerful determinant of who you are is inside you. Professor Steinberg says this is Pygmalion. Think of the story, Tara. She was just a cockney in a nice dress. Until she believed in herself. Then it didn’t matter what dress she wore.” Tara had to learn to believe in herself, to cast away the years of brainwashing (because that’s really what it was) and become who she was meant to be. 

This story is one of great inspiration and an example of how a strong will can pull you from the depth of darkness into the light. I highly recommend this book.  In fact, I am trying to get my husband to read it as well because I think he will find it just as fascinating as I did.  Let me know your thoughts.  Below are some questions that I asked myself while I was reading.  Feel free to look them over and send me your feelings on any of them.  I would love to chat with you about it. 

  1. Mom suffered a serious brain injury and did not receive medical care.  How did this injury affect not only her personality but also her relationship with her husband and children?
  2. How did the way they were raised affect each of the 7 children.  It was different for each one of them. What about the difference between the ones who left to get and education vs. those that remained uneducated?
  3. Was Shawn’s behavior/aggressiveness a product of the way he was raised or was he mentally ill like his father?
  4. What would I do in her situation? Would I be brave enough to walk away?
  5. Dad began to have “followers” including mom.  Did they believe he was a “prophet” that was sent from God? 
  6. What makes people follow someone so blindly and wholeheartedly? Is it a cult? 

For January, I have chosen a book that was a National Book Award Finalist, a New York Times Top Ten Book of the Year in 2017, and Goodreads Choice Awards Winner for Best Historical Fiction. It is entitled Pachinko (Amazon) by Min Jin Lee. This is a story of four generations of a poor Korean immigrant family as they fight to control their destiny in 20th century Japan. Here is Apple Books review of this book.

“An immersive and compulsively readable saga, Min Jin Lee’s novel follows one family for more than half a century, tracking their winding course from a seaside village in an occupied Korea to gambling halls in Japan. We adore this 2017 National Book Award finalist for its beautifully realized characters, historical insights, and flawless depictions of family strife, loyalty, and love. “

Will you join me on the journey inside this book? 

Anchored in Good Books,

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