Education: Saved by the Books!
A book review by Astrid Ambroziak of Educated, by Tara Westover
Have you ever been saved by a book? Do you know anyone who has been? Perhaps it is a hyperbole with the word “saved.” Yet, to me that saving is real. As it is to my father who at 84 cannot hear, stumbles with his balance daily and lost his independence fully relying on my awesome mom. He cannot engage in conversations. He often might not know where he is, yet, when he reads and gets lost in another’s story, he becomes that 6’2” strong, caring, inquisitive man he has always been.
Since I was a freshman in college, I have suffered from panic attacks. My panic attacks can last from a few minutes to hours. I am fortunate to have acquired tools for how to deal with my panic attacks. I am blessed not to take any medication. For me, prayer, meditation, sleep, working out, and then first and foremost, reading. Reading and books are my oil change, my new car brakes on stress, my clean windows. Reading and books are my calm. And reading and books are my education.
Recently, I came across the book that has saved me further. Perhaps for the simple reason that reading to me, makes me feel less alone in my predicament and also makes me realize that everything and anything is possible. Be it at 52 or 16, or 30 or 84, like for my father, I can start again to make a difference and I can make my dreams come true.
How often we are afraid to show our vulnerability and ask questions in the fear of judgment?
This book is Educated by Tara Westover. Educated is a coming of age, or in my opinion, coming to humanity memoir. And if Tara can do it, so can I. So, can you, and so can my father. So, can any of us.
Tara was born to fundamentalist parents in a small village in Idaho, the youngest of seven children. She grew up under the Princess, a great massive mountain that resembled a regal Indian woman. She grew up in a household where her father Gene (pseudonym) believed that the end of the world was coming, if not daily, then soon enough. He built stores of food, water, ammunition and gasoline so his family could survive the imminent doom. When the end of the world didn’t happen in 2000 he was not just disappointed, he was disheartened that his prophecy didn’t come true and resigned himself to watch the Honeymooners on TV.
Gene abhorred government. He despised the medical establishment. He hated schools. He insisted his children would be home schooled. Yet, there were no books in the house except the texts of scripture. His more worldly wife Faye (pseudonym) was forced to be an unlicensed midwife to help to earn their upkeep. Gene built barns and other structures in the village, otherwise supporting the family through metal scrapping. And in those metal junk yards, Tara from an early age had to work with her brothers.
Tara and her brothers were severely injured while working with discarded cars, gas tanks and other metal. Not medicine nor medical help were allowed. After all, God and God’s Angels were there to take care of the Westover family, their father assured them. Suffer and let God’s will be done.
What happens when, as a child, the only God you truly see or have a concept of, is through the eyes of your parents? There are stories of children being beaten raw by their mother, yet, when the social worker comes to protect the child, this child clings to the abuser.
This happens with Tara. Until she hears the music that her older brother plays and, in hiding, studies to go to college. He wants more. He wants the larger world view. He wants to develop his own seeing. Thus, so does Tara. She reads the texts and as she says, develops patience to stay with what is challenging, what she can’t grasp. How often do we give up? She doesn’t. Tara shows us how to find our own sight and our own voice. “My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.”
Algebra is a mystery? No teachers? Tara tackles it. She studies and passes the ACT. She gets in to Brigham Young University. Her lack of knowledge of the Holocaust, for instance, is seen as a sick joke. How often we are afraid to show our vulnerability and ask questions in the fear of judgment? They say ignorance is bliss. But what is curiosity when you are judged for not knowing?
Tara is fortunate to meet compassionate people along her education journey. The professors who admire her resilience and determination when she eventually has the courage to show her past. Her truth. “Whomever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were.” And perhaps we all have a bit of Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’ in us.
Eventually, Tara gets a PhD from Cambridge. A fellowship at Harvard leading to it. And all of it without a high school diploma. Without a GED. With her resolve, her doubts, her fears, her mental anguish of being abused by her brother and raised by a fundamentalist, bipolar father, she makes a leap of faith into who she really is. She makes choices that change the self. “You could call this selfhood many things,” she says. “Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education.”
Educated is not a black and white book. There are no red states or blue states dividing us all from our humanity. There is cruelty, abuse and neglect. But there is also grace. And there are choices. Choices to make when our very own humanity is at stake. Yet, not to condemn others for their beliefs. But instead walk away with truth and respect and compassion. Compassion that we are all fragile and at the same time most resilient.
If reading hasn’t saved my life, then at least it has shown me that I am that diamond in the rough. That it is never too late to let that diamond shine. That I can do anything I set my heart to. Because if Tara could find her way to her own transformation, that was through her own education, be it at Cambridge or elsewhere, then so can I and so can you.
Astrid Ambroziak is editor of ParkNews.biz. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
• Educated – A Memoir by Tara Westover.Copyright 2018 by Second Sally, Ltd. Published in the United States by Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.