Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover.
I read this book recently for a library book club, and it's awful when it comes to abuse. I told the book club, she needs to learn more about abuse and should be warning about sociopaths and narcissists, and I was upset that she left nieces and nephews with a severe abuser with nary a word [as far as the reader is told]. People nodded and agreed with me. Sure she is to be congratulated on getting out and taking the steps to better her life, but I didn't like the messages about abuse and life that this book had to tell. Maybe it hit too close to home, maybe something about the book struck me as not truthful.
This book is written in the same strain as Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. I wrote on this book before: Hillbilly Elegy: Blaming the Poor in America
The general theme is the same, down and out person, in this case with physical and mental abuse added to the poverty, escapes and rises up the ladder of success. It's part of the perseverance porn genre. These books always seem to have a conservative political "up by the bootstraps" theme. It's very strong here. Tara manages to teach herself trigonometry and to get into college even not knowing what the Holocaust was. Tara takes the education world by storm and goes to college after being poorly homeschooled, and goes on to earn a Master's degree. Just like JD Vance, she gets a few lucky breaks along the way that are understated, in this case a professor-mentor takes her under his wing.
She definitely worked hard and I liked the part of the book describing her pursuits of knowledge and education. Homeschooling is definitely a problem and is something I believe should be made illegal. It's a tool of too many abusive parents among the few homeschooling parents that may offer anything resembling a real education. Tara was kept at home to be her father's mule in the scrap-yard with plenty of injuries waiting to be had.
However a lot of the book seemed "untrue" and this beyond outraged family members calling a would be escaped scapegoat a liar. Some reviewers on Amazon and elsewhere question the book, how did her badly educated and functioning mother and father suddenly become multimillionaires from a holistic health company that made essential oils, salves and homeopathic remedies? Was she really that isolated when she was allowed to sing and act in community plays? How did one relative survive a hole to his brain as described in her book, and others a slew of severe burns--in one instance she claims her father's face burns so badly it appears to melt, car accidents and more without modern medical care and survive? How did her mother survive a severe brain injury with no modern intervention and then have the health and mental ability to run a large business?
I joked at the book club maybe the whole book was an ad for her mother's miraculous salves behind the scenes. I saw enough of the holistic health world to know homeopathy and herbs grown on the side of the mountain are not equivalent to the modern medical world. I definitely tried different remedies when I was with the fundamentalists myself. More then one tried to convince me to give up modern medicine and evil "sorcery" named "pharmacology", but I knew it would mean death in my case.
What gets me is she keeps returning to a very abusive family and in the end still yearns for their love and wants to be with them instead of any real recovery, so the book bothered me greatly. It also gets annoying how much love is pushed, as if all of us should love abusers in one of the lesser offensive quotes of the book, stated above by Oprah. "You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye." Here recall my last post about emotional repression, part of the messages of society is you must love family [god/etc] no matter what they do to you. Ponder the messages of this book and why it was written. It's her right to express her emotions, but I realize something is very wrong here, as the focus is "loving abusers" between her and Oprah.
Her odd words that "I knew my father always loved me" are strange indeed as in the book, she tells tales of her father directly endangering her life from the work he had her do, and directly endangering the life of her brothers where at least two are severely injured. I think in some places this would be known as a "double bind" message, someone writes a book where someone does everything to destroy them, allows a brother to beat her to the point of almost being maimed for life, sets them up for severe injuries, denies them medical care and an education and uses them as a slave for years and goes up on a national stage and tells us how much this person loved her.
Her sociopathic brother keeps beating the literal snot out of her, puts her head in toilets and even once commits an extreme bloody horrific crime against an animal, and none of it is reported. Her parents know about all this and do absolutely nothing. There is one scene where he is beating the shit out of her at a bar, but instead of her protesting or yelling for help, she pretends it's all a joke so others don't intervene.
This book was triggering to me, though I did not tell the group that part, and I remember how I had to fist fight like a boy to protect myself from my abusive brother [father was too]. I wrote about this on my going no contact with my brother, but a lot of my childhood and teens was dodging his fists, pinches, slaps, and threats of physical harm. Unlike her psycho brother who was farther on the spectrum of evil, while I had some fun times with my brother, when we were younger, there was the very "dark" side of things too. This book was hard to read, and I almost quit, because reading scenes of her getting knocked down, kicked about, slapped and threatened brought back some of my own abuse.
In my case, I was large and could dish it out like a boy and did when I had to, once giving brother a bloody nose and also tossing him into a dishwasher breaking the door off but I spent my childhood and teens, having brother hit me, wrestle me, kick me and under constant physical duress from him. Remember the example he was given in terms of treating me. I believe things would have been far worse if I had not been so big in size and close to him in age. He did not touch me when I was over 18, knowing I'd call the cops on him but the threat of violence was always there, if that makes sense. I was nearly 50 in 2018, with a slight tinge of worry over his misspelled words about wishing he could come over to my house to slap me.
Sometimes I wonder about "popular" books like this that give very bad messages about abuse. This book, was the extreme of someone sitting there and taking it. She never fought back until she ran away to go to school. Even after her no contact, she never questioned the system she came out of. I don't know if she is someone who will progress or not, but these seem to be issues that impact her book negatively. The love stuff with Oprah doesn't shock me as the societal theme of family at all cost even with one that has left, Tara has no interest in questioning the myths of religion or family, that all parents "love" their children no matter how they treat them. How many remain in abuse now, being told Mom or Dad "really love" you? No "bootstrap" book that sells success to the masses will ever question family as the bastion of love, no matter how toxic that family is.
I understand people being at earlier steps of abuse recovery or even the time when you just don't know. That applied to me. So with all of Tara's "education" and contact with academics and celebrities, how come there is no warnings about narcissism or sociopathy in this book? Why are there so many limited and missing messages about abuse and CPTSD? Where is her concern for the younger family members left behind in the grips of the family? If the book is more about her success in education and "educating herself", then her lack of education about abuse or wanting to find out more, is glaring. Something feels sugar-coated to me. One interesting thing about the Dad was that he was a hard core conspiracy theorist, which is now common among fundamentalist Christians of all types, this type being Mormon.
She is not in recovery at all, kept going back for more--her brother beat her even when she was 18 and long out of the house and she never called the cops on him. She still pines away for her psychopathic religious family at the end of the book going on about forgiveness, does not protect the younger generation as far as the readers know--her psychopathic brother who is the animal murderer and beater of women has a huge family. Tara also refuses to criticize the extreme fundamentalism and religion that imprisoned her and denied her an education. Watching her in the videos, something about her rubs me the wrong way.
From a book review on Amazon: "Tara is unlikeable and unrelatable. You'd think that after having studied at Cambridge and Oxford, she'd call the cops after finding out that her crazy older brother Shawn had stabbed a pet to death, or any of the other times when he threatened to kill her or has gone as far as to physically maim her. You'd also think that she'd stop going home (every single semester) since every time she goes back, she endures more abuse. You'd think she'd either call the cops or just cut contact with her crazy family once and for all."