Hannah’s Recommendation: Educated by Tara Westover

By Hannah Yazdani

What makes Educated one of the most important memoirs I have read is Tara Westover’s ability to show us the daunting, yet necessary process of stepping outside the world to which we are accustomed. Born to a family of Mormon extremists in Clifton, Idaho, Westover experiences an upbringing of severe isolation; physical and mental abuse; and radical, religious indoctrination. Despite never receiving a formal education as a child, Westover decides to attend University, which eventually leads her to receive her doctorate in intellectual history from Trinity College, Cambridge.

As Westover’s story develops, we learn of her transition from being a blind follower of her family’s radical faith to someone who forges her own, separate path. Westover’s opportunity to experience life outside of her family comes from education, which she must fund herself through jobs and scholarships. In studying a curriculum separate from her father’s religion, Westover is able to draw her own conclusions about the world. Her ability to admit what she does not know and to keep an open mind allows her to both question her upbringing and better understand her family members.

Through her educational journey, Westover shows us the struggle and relief of creating her own identity. It is hard for her to disagree with the beliefs that formed her childhood. As much as learning empowers her, it also burdens her with a sense of guilt that she is severing ties of loyalty and trust with her family – the only people that truly know the world from which she comes.

I am most struck by the journalistic style in which Westover writes her story. While explaining her relationships, she is analytical but without judgement. In recounting a childhood of trauma and abuse, no character in this story is made out to be a villain. Westover shows us that the world is not so black and white. She does not write off religion despite experiencing firsthand its uglier side. In fact, it is the town Bishop that becomes one of Westover’s first confidants. He is the one that encourages her to continue her education and achieve financial independence from her family.

At the end of her story, it is easy to understand both why Westover loves her family and why she needs to separate from them. Despite her family’s flaws, Westover tells her story so that the reader is left with an understanding of each character rather than a feeling of hatred or judgement towards them. But, only by reading the full memoir can you come to this conclusion. It is Westover’s candid and unbiased thought process that allows us to see what we do not know. Her narrative style is neutral, yet personal.

In our current, polarized world, there are many cases where the extent of our differences makes the search for common ground feel hopeless. But in these instances, perhaps the only real common ground is that the parties, or really, the people, are both trying to understand where the other is coming from. Westover’s relationship with her two worlds – the one she comes from and the one she steps into – could be seen as a commitment to maintaining common ground, even when it feels one-sided. Although she has lost touch with her family, she can still try to understand them and even love them. In this sense, Westover also creates the possibility for common ground between the reader and her family. While we will never have the same lived experience, we can see their lives through Westover’s personal lens. This is what Westover inspires me to work towards: trying to understand other people’s experiences from their own perspective, no matter how different they are from my own, rather than disregarding those whose values don’t fit comfortably in my world.

Hannah Yazdani is a summer intern with Engage. She will return to Brown University in the fall to complete a degree in International Relations and Economics.

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