The memoir is, in itself, problematic. Presenting a subjective filtering of the world, it is highly difficult to disentangle the history from the perception of it. The accounts are a textual inter-play between events and experiences, doubled by the issue of having a single perspective story. Tara Westover also decided to write about her journey extraordinarily soon (for reference, I would have waited 30 or 40 more years). The media has reached out to the memebers of her family and, unsurprisingly, discovered that many of their accounts differ. To give credit where credit is due, however, dr. Westover herself adds footnotes throughout the book, trying her best to explain when she believes her recollection may be unreliable. It should be still mentioned that, for a work telling a personal history spanning roughly two decades, the number of such footnotes (under 10) is concenrningly low.
There have been a fair number of reviewers and critics who were less than comfortable with dr. Westover’s over-sharing of intimate issues that exposed many of her family members (especially the parents) to millions of readers worldwide. It is also beyond a shadow of doubt that she profited immensely from her memoir’s popularity: from Oprah, to Ellen, to being featured by Bill Gates, to giving interviews on almost all major US outlets, to giving her own TED talk. The morality of exposing one’s family so soon and profiting from it to this degree is beyond the scope of this article, but they can be considered good points to pay attention to in anyone’s journey towards becoming *educated*.
Having said all that, I believe Tara Westover.
There’s no doubt, to my mind, that this book represents her coming to terms with the reality of her life. It is, partly, an exploratory exercise in making sense and self-discovery. Some have interpreted it as a typical American story about exceptionalism and the miracles of the individual’s willpower (I am exaggerating for emphasis), while others saw in the memoir an attempt to inspire children, particularly young girls, everywhere to pursue education. Perhaps both of these play out, mixed in with a desire to account for one’s origin myth, however, I would focus the conversation a lot more on the final page of the book.
I believe towards the end, dr. Westover’s intention, or at least part of it, was to open her particular argument into a general one and emphasise that her budding sense of no longer belonging in her family comes from this spectacular change within her, this journey of intellectual discovery, this transormation that she refers to as having become “educated”. Her story is anything but uninteresting and I perfectly understand the appeal in exploring the oddities of life among Mormon preparationists (id est, preparing for The End of Days), the psychology of abuse, the zealotry, the community of conspiracy theorists and so on, but I do not believe that is her “thesis” here. If there is one thing that ought to be taken away from Tara Westover’s story is that there is a transformative power of education. Of course, different people live in very different circumstances, but this is a discussion on particularities that in no way diminishes the main idea. The author’s particularities made for a very interesting background, tirelessly explored in the media, but if I were to bring anything in the foreground, it’d be education.