Monday, April 6, 2020

Book Review: Educated

EducatedEducated by Tara Westover

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How do you rate a book like this? A book that holds a life within it.
Full disclosure: I did not like this for the first 3/4 of it. Educated features horrific farm accidents, abusive siblings, useless parents, and untreated mental health. But the hardest part to take of it all is that it's a true story. Tara Westover actually lived through all this...

I did not want to believe that Westover, a woman with two doctorates, could so readily allow these things to happen. But she did not ‘allow’ anything; instead she was subject to poor luck and born into an un-winnable situation. And so she tells her story as she experienced it at the time of events; not as she sees it today. There is an important distinction here between judging history and telling it. Given Westover’s time spent researching historians for her later doctorates it’s perhaps fitting that she becomes a historian to all of us in telling her tale.
What is most important here, that I realized at 82% of the way through the book is that everyone’s reaction to this story is different. Not because we all read a different story but because of our ability to understand and have empathy for Westover’s situational childhood.

At the end of the day education is about more than just math, science, reading, and books. It's about social connection, psychological growth, and becoming a part of society. The quote below really resonated with me.
"Napoleon felt no more real to me than Jean Valjean. I had never heard of either."
It's not that Westover doesn't know who Napolean on Valjean are that is relevant; it's that these are people that are a part of our cultural existence in most of North America. Therefore by not knowing who they are she is missing out on a key piece of a complex culture.

I didn't get what many people were hoping I would from Educated. It had been 'sold' to me as a story about hope, perseverance, and strength. There is no hope here, in my opinion, instead there is just a failure of society to protect children from parents whom are mentally ill, lesser educated, and incapable of properly raising a child (ie: putting them intentionally in harms way to save a couple minutes). It disturbs me that in a tight knit community, like most Mormon ones, no one reached out to this family at any time (or at least not that we are aware of). There is, of course, the relevance that women have no authority, power, or voice in Mormonism (like most religions). The suppression of Westover's Mother to know, inherently, the wrongness of what was happening in her home; and yet she turns a blind eye because that is what a good wife would do.
These are the things I take away from Educated. That 'we' as a society need to do better.

Without a doubt Westover has overcome all odds to even exist, never mind have two PhD's. But I don't think that is the story here; or at least for me it isn't. This is instead a story about the inequality that exists for children. The luck that is required to be born into a stable situation; and to be 'lucky' enough to be born into a gender, race, sexuality, etc. that will give an advantage in the world.

Educated, for me, is a reminder that the world has a long, long way to go before we are all educated enough to be able to influence people and avoid children being raised like Westover was.

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Kaisievic said...

I read this book last year and found it to be quite amazing - what a story!

Leonore Winterer said...

This whole story just sounds so crazy to me. I can't imagine this ever happening in my country, and yet, that's probably being naive (but then we don't have as many sparsely populated areas, so maybe chances are better). In any way, it's horrfying to think that something like this might still be happening to day, in a 'civilized' country nonetheless!