The older I get and the more books I have read, the harder I find it to write conventional reviews. Either I want to recommend a book, or I do not. If I don’t, what’s the point of talking about it? And if I do, I’m wary of spoiling a potential reader’s pleasure by giving too much away. I have also noticed how an enthusiastic review can raise expectations to the point where it engenders disappointment. The best way of recommending a book may be just doing that: I think you should read this!
Accordingly, I’d like to recommend Tara Westover’s Educated. It is a self-proclaimed ‘memoir’ but the story it has to tell is truly extraordinary: from an ignorant, violently abused teenager without any formal schooling to a PhD.
The author/narrator (let’s not quibble about technical distinctions) grows up in a remote mountainous part of Idaho, in a family governed by fundamentalist Mormon beliefs. Their father follows a largely self-sufficient lifestyle, which means – among other things – not only that the younger children, born at home, do not have birth certificates, but also that in case of illness or accident they cannot expect to see a doctor. And accidents happen with alarming frequency, due to father’s cruel indifference to dangers and injuries. Indeed, family life for all its piousness is equally characterized by horrifying physical violence.
The author manages to get away by means of education – a local university first, followed by a scholarship to Cambridge in England. Although an astonishing achievement in itself, this only makes up part of the story. The other part tells of her struggles, first to arrive at an understanding with her left-behind family and then, when these attempts fail, to come to grips with her sense of loss and even guilt.
It is not easy to convey what a thrilling read this makes; I dare say there’s more suspense here than in many a thriller. Of course, this is also due to Tara Westover’s remarkable writing power (skills would be too weak a word).
Given too much away again? Well, I hope I haven’t. In a nutshell: Yes, I would recommend this book, strongly even. You really should read this!
Tara Westover, Educated (London: Windmill Books, 2018). e-book. – A German version is available as Befreit: Wie Bildung mir die Welt erschloss.