CEO Reads: Educated

Educated

Educated was selected by The New York Times Book Reviews as one of the 10 best books of 2018 so I had high expectations of Westover’s biography of growing up as the youngest in a family cursed by ideological mania and extreme physical trauma in a Mormon pocket of southeastern rural Idaho. I was expecting a similar tale to J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, which I really enjoyed as this set out the political divide and the poverty divide of rural and urban America. And in some way explained the election of Trump for me.  My review of this book can be found here. But I was far more shocked by Westover’s harrowing story of a family at the mercy of a father’s rigid survivalist ideology, extreme poverty, and paranoia. Now in her early thirties Tara told of her escape. Her father, Gene (a pseudonym), a product from a farming family at the base of the mountain where they live, supports his family by building barns and hay sheds and by scrapping metal in his junkyard. His wife Faye (another pseudonym), from the nearby small town, reluctantly takes on the role of unlicensed midwife for the Mormon community and mixing up herbal remedies for sale.  Westover’s upbringing was dangerous and shocking. Not only with a violent, bullying father but also with a violent and sadistic older brother. Incredible physical trauma is a feature of these children’s upbringing as the work the children are forced to do from a very young age, in the case of Westover the age of 10, in the junkyard is incredibly dangerous. Fire, severe gashes, lost fingers and three degree burns are a feature of working for Gene. Some of the descriptions and the trauma are very hard to read as this family does not believe in getting any medical help and Faye’s ‘God’s own’ pharmacy is the only healing allowed. No birth certificates, no schooling this family certainly lives a very isolated life. There are moments of lightness and the explanation of Y2K from a survivalist point of view was comical but also dismayingly real. Westover struggles with her family’s claims on her – loyalty, guilt, shame and love of her family keep her tied and always coming back, even when she begins to see her family in a critical light. Her courage to actually go to school, her incredible talent and desire to learn, all mean she succeeds going to college with no background schooling at all. She even has to learn normal social mores such as washing her hands after going to the toilet and showering daily. When her grandmother mentions this to Gene, he blithely says he has taught his children not to pee on their hands. The break when it comes is wrenching, for the reader too, yet it is also a relief because you know she is safe from the manipulation and cult like hold the father has over the whole family. Her story is exceptional, yet she does not in any way show her achievements in an exceptional light. Her writing is matter-of-fact which, for me, made her story more shocking and there is no blame for family members that fail to protect her, fail to support her and ultimately fail to accept her as family as her drive for learning takes her all the way to Cambridge University. Definitely a recommended read.

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