Review of Educated: A Memoir

I have a bad habit of accidentally purchasing things for Kindle, a side-effect of having the one-click purchase set up and too many tabs open at any given time.

The reason this is important is because I accidentally purchased Educated: A Memoir (affiliate link), as well as about a half-dozen other Kindle books over the course of the years.

Educated: A Memoir cover courtesy of Amazon.

I have no regrets.

Tara Westover tells her story in a deep, personal, no-holds-barred fashion, and that in and of itself would be enough to make it compelling if it didn’t also deal with a dysfunctional family dynamic that puts King Lear to shame (or, rather, would make him look well-adjusted).

It is impossible to truly describe what Westover manages to convey without taking so many words that it would be unconscionable to suggest reading the description rather than the source it mirrors, so I’ll have to fall back to a more basic description of my response.

From the moment I accidentally purchased this book to the moment I finished the rear material I was thinking about it in almost every quiet moment, and for a couple weeks later the phenomenon continued.

The thing that makes this story so compelling is that it’s a story of evil, but not one of conscious evil. Westover’s family is dysfunctional, abusive, and righteous.

Being sure of righteousness, however, is blinding. Nobody in the Westover family would consider themselves evil, but they are blinded by mental illness or indoctrination to the consequences of their actions.

Westover writes without condemning her subjects, even when she recounts times when she was abused or victimized by her own family. She can see that her liberation comes from exposure to the light, rather than a rejection of the darkness, and the memoir screams one key message:

“I got out.”

It’s an interesting study for those interested in the way that our consciousness about the world shapes our perception of the world.

One of the most compelling moments in the story comes when Westover recounts ignorance of the Holocaust during a history class and how she told off like she was telling an off-color joke.

I think that this provides an eye-opening lesson for many of us, an opportunity to see outside our society. We can tell when people who are very different from us are different, know that they are coming into life with different assumptions than us.

But when we meet someone who looks like us, talks like us, dreams like us, but does not know what we know and does not, for lack of a better term, belong among us, how do we respond to them?

Westover’s own conflict between the cosmos presented by her family and the cosmos provided by mainstream western civilization is a key component of the final parts of the memoir, which recount her studies at Cambridge.

I could say more, but I think to do so would be to spoil the experience.

Educated: A Memoir is tantalizing. It’s sordid, but realistic and not seeking attention so much as building understanding. It’s ennobling, but also builds a connection to the unenlightened world. It’s cerebral, but also keenly emotional and in touch with the deeper felt parts of the psyche.

If I had known what was in this book, my purchase of it would not have been accidental, and it would have been much sooner than it was.

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