Her father ran a junk yard, selling scrap metal and her mother was a herbalist, turned home-grown mid-wife. Tara basically learned midwifery, in effect, by assisting her mother at births in rural Idaho. (For a girl who had no formal education, talk about an education. Whew! She describes experiences when she was 13 and 14 of helping her mother attend at the births of babies, sometimes in the dead of winter driving in the middle of the night on treacherous rural Idaho roads. I found myself saying aloud: “Holy Cow! What an education.”)
Westover’s father, in particular, was controlled and driven by fear the government was after him, poor mental health (perhaps insanity in the last few years) and the need to totally control the fate of his wife and his children.
Growing up, the Westover children heard countless lectures (1 to 2 hours in length) combining the Book of Mormon, the Bible and his own fear of the government coming to get him. He repeatedly insisted that it was only a matter of time before the government came to their rural property and the world literally would come to an end. The word to his children: “Prepare for this!”
By the time Westover was a teen-ager of her old brothers, clearly emotionally disturbed Westover writes, began severely abusing her and constantly fighting and demeaning her. On more than one occasion, he even threatened to kill her, although when her parents found out, they told her he didn’t mean it. Tara learned how to fight back and survive, but that abusive behavior was it for Tara.
With the help and encouragement of another older brother, she decided to study for the ACT so she could maybe go to college, as this older brother had. He convinced her that college was the way to make the break and lead the life she could only imagine. Tara had taught herself to read and write and somehow, through utter determination, and a will of steel, scored high enough on her ACT score to be accepted into BYU.
She writes that her knowledge of history and the world was so small when she arrived on BYU’s campus that she raised her hand during a freshman class and asked what the holocaust was, after one of her professors talked about it. Realizing the dearth in her education ultimately compelled Westover to learn. And study and learn she did! During the next 9 years she had to be one of the most determined young women on planet earth.
Tara Westover graduated magna cum laude from BYU. Then with the help and encouragement of a BYU professor who saw her tremendous potential, she applied and was accepted into the PhD program at Cambridge University, one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world.
After jumping into the Cambridge experience, though, Westover had doubts, big doubts, feeling that she was in way over her head. She felt she was just the dumb daughter of a rural Idaho junkyard survivalist. She felt like a failure and the first year she determined to give up and quit.
Finally she started getting personal counseling. Her perspective began to change and her self-esteem began to grow. The regular counseling, along with a Cambridge professor that told her one of her essays was one of the best he had read in 30 years of teaching at Cambridge, filled Westover with hope, and she pushed on.
Part of her doctoral studies included a year-long fellowship at Harvard, another amazing opportunity.(It was while at Harvard that her parents visited her, after having not seen her for years. Both insisted on staying in her tiny dorm room with her. During the visit her father told her that he had determined she essentially was demon-possessed. But he insisted that he could cleanse her of her wickedness and accept her back into the family if she would own up to all the terrible educational decisions her father felt she had made, along with submitting to the authority that he felt he deserved from her but had not been given.)
Tara stood firm in her resolve and today remains separated from her parents and many of her siblings. Two of Tara’s brothers and she have PhDs, while four siblings who remain in rural Idaho do not even have high school diplomas. Somehow Tara is not bitter and has been able to self-differentiate from her parents and choose the life she wants.
This memoir is the tale of a narcissistic, emotionally and spiritually-abusive father and one girl’s victory in becoming herself in spite of being vilified and gas lighted.
One quotation stays with me: “I am not the child my father raised, but he is the father that raised her.”
Kudos to the 32-year Westover. Her book now has spent 25 weeks on the New York Times best-selling list for nonfiction. It has garnered nearly 2,000 reviews on Amazon, most of them 5-star reviews. She is spending much of 2018 traveling in the U.S. and the U.K. lecturing about her book. Check out her website.
Highly Recommended!! Reading it you’ll get the education of a lifetime…