A memoir about an off-the-grid childhood and breaking out of it

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Tara Westover’s memoir starts with her life in the hills of Idaho in America until she turned 17 and left home for an access to formal education, not without murmurs of disquiet and disapproval from her family.

Living life off the grid for the first seventeen years of her life, Tara goes through an entire gamut of challenges that she, along with her siblings, treated as ordinary as getting through another day without school. But living off the grid didn’t just mean not going to school; it also meant not accessing health care even for the most agonising of medical conditions and near-fatal accidents. For most of their physical ailments and injuries, her mother’s concoction of herbal oils and homeopathy medicines were put to work. Tara remembers they had no effect, which essentially meant that once nearly maimed on a construction site or burnt to dangerous levels, one could just wait for one’s body and will power to fight it. She describes with searing clarity and detail the numerous times she and her brothers got injured and didn’t seek hospitalisation for fear they may be asked too many questions for living off the grid, and accidents that left her parents bedridden for months. Yet, her bipolar father always saw the state and anything within its ambit an evil force out to get them. Unschooled and ill-medicated, Tara’s childhood also was cursed with fear that they would be attacked by the outsiders. While her father constantly stored supplies and ammunition to prepare the family for suspected combats, they as a family lived in fear and distrust of the state. When Tara formally enrolled at a college and eventually moved to Cambridge for her PhD, the biggest hurdle to her own awakening was this fear and distrust in her of not just the outsiders but also of herself.

In the end, almost in efforts to reconcile to her roots, Tara realises the breaking off of ties in an irretrievable way. To break the mould was to get an education that opened her mind to alternative views and facts, and helped her see a world beyond her father’s zealous, conservative sermons about Mormonism. This is when she makes the journey away from her life on the hills, to finally own the journey she sets out on.

Tara’s perception of the world in the hills is fresh, her language is almost lyrical when describing the areas she grew up in, without sounding nostalgic or overtly emotional, and her reflections on her journey are tinged with thoughtfulness and profound understanding of the world she inhabited once and how disastrous it would have been if she had stayed.

More that what any book reviews tell you about ‘Educated’, this is not just a book about Mormonism. Of course, Tara’s family is a bunch of mormons living in the hills of Idaho but it’s also a family we all know. A complex family with rigid values and the generation clashes it doesn’t deal with; the abuse within family that it doesn’t acknowledge or fight against; denial of basic rights and amenities to oneself and to all in an act of blind faith to beliefs and ideologies; and gender unequal milieu perpetuating the equally unequal rights. Consider reading this book for the message it leaves you with: sometimes, to grow, we may need to grow apart from people we love. And that act may in itself be necessitated by education.

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