Day: June 14, 2022

by Tara Westover

It was hard to listen to this book. I found the story compelling, the phrasing adroit, but the descriptions of abuse and horrible injuries, difficult to hear. In this memoir, the author describes growing up in a large family on the side of a mountain in Idaho. Her father was a fundamentalist and survivalist- to the extreme. They stockpiled food, ammunition and gasoline. They shunned government “handouts”, avoided doctors and didn’t send their kids to school. The author says she was homeschooled, but it didn’t sound very structured or consistent. Her father owned a junkyard where he dismantled automobiles and sold the metal for scrap. He made his kids work in the junkyard- there were few safety precautions, and frequent injuries. Some quite severe. At home, her mother (reluctantly at first) trained to be a midwife, used herbs and tinctures to treat people (including her family) and eventually ran a business selling essential oils. Tara suffered a lot of verbal and emotional abuse from her father and older brother, who eventually also turned violent. It’s shocking how much a blind eye the family turned on this behavior. It’s appalling the kind of excuses they made for it. Later on, looking back, Tara suspected that her father suffered from bipolar disorder, and her brother may have started acting violent after a head injury. More shocking than all that, is that she managed to leave this situation.

One brother left the family and managed to go to college, Tara determined to follow suit, even though she’d never been to school at all. She didn’t have a GED, but somehow she studied enough to take the ACT and managed to get into BYU, then later did a term of study abroad at Cambridge and attended Harvard. I’m still not sure how- she didn’t explain much of the culture shock she must have suffered, sitting through her first classes. Interacting with the other students, being ignorant of so much- from basic history to popular culture. The last part of the book becomes very retrospective, as Tara attempts to face her past. She gets counseling, suffers an emotional breakdown, and returns home to confront her family about the abuse- but they for their part seem to think she’s been led astray by the world in her quest for an education. It’s a story that leaves you feeling very unsettled and disturbed, yet admiring too- that she could come so far from such beginnings. Although plenty of people have thrown doubt on her story- saying it’s exaggerated or falsified. A brief look at any stack of reviews online will show you that. I don’t know if any of it is contrived, I just know I was captivated by the words, even when I wanted to turn away.

Borrowed from the public library. Audiobook, 12 hours read by Julia Whelan.

Rating: 4/5
352 pages, 2018

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All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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