The late Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore’s last book suggestion to me came in the form of a short text: “Educated by Tara Westover. Highly recommend.” That’s all I had to go with. So I reached out to the bookstore and they confirmed they had it in stock, made my purchase and dived right in.
Educated does not disappoint, like business magnate Bill Gates admitted in his Gates Notes. Former US President Barack Obama listed it as part of his summer reads in 2018, the year Tara’s first book was published.
Tara Westover, the last of seven children, was raised in rural Idaho, in the US where her father, besides working the land, owned and ran a junkyard. Tara and her siblings didn’t go to school or, the hospital when they fell sick. She didn’t have a birth certificate until she was nine.
Her mother would home school them when they were young, and treat them with herbal remedies when they were unwell.
They were ardent fundamentalist Mormons waiting for the end of the world. Everything they did, their father made sure, had this in mind. Except hand washing after using the toilet.
Her maternal grandmother chastised her for it and brought it up with Tara’s father Gene, “Don’t you teach your children to wash their hands?” she asked him once as he came to pick up his last child. He waved at the old lady as he entered the car into gear responding, “I teach them not to piss in their hands”.
Educated reminds me of humanitarian Kennedy Odede’s quote, in his book Find Me Unafraid, where he writes, “There are two way of escaping your poverty. One, you can use drugs, get drunk — escape. Or you can escape into the world of books; that can be your refuge.”
You could say, Educated is a kind of escape. Not just her life’s tale.
Tara needed to leave the dysfunction of a family with a father who didn’t believe in hospitals, the education system or government, an abusive brother, a mother who chose to be quiet in the moments she had hoped would speak up and fight for her and her sister over the abuse they endured over the years from her brother ‘Shawn’.
Tara had nowhere to go, given those bleak prospects, except to school. At 17 years, stepped into her first ever classroom and 10 years later, graduated with a PhD in history from Cambridge.
Educated is written in a fast prose as though Tara couldn’t wait to tell her story, exacerbating the hard-to-read bits.
You might literally need a breather for some of these parts. You will wince and try not to feel as much pain on her behalf as the cracks on her bones, mirror those of the nuclear relationships fragmented through the burden of silence.
This led to estrangement with her parents that affected her relationship with her siblings that led to a kind of shame for her.
Educated carries within it a raw honesty, grating conversations and events, a fierce reflection of the clash of culture, faith modern life and generations as seen through the Westover family dynamics.
Tara’s book is a very deeply moving text as it is disturbing. It will resonate with the reader on a humane level. It could very well be the most gnawing book you might read this year, if you’re yet to.
It’s a rare kind of book. One you’ll be better for, having in your book shelf.