Coincidentally, I read Berg's 2006 "The Art of Mending" just after finishing the Westover's 2018 memoir "Educated". There is no doubt that Westover is riveting and that Berg is contemplative, that one is memoir and the other is fiction.. There is no doubt that the abuse Westover suffered was profound, and the abuse suffered by Caroline in the fictional "Art of Mending" is, in comparison, merely severe.
But it is the investigation of sibling abuse in both that caught my eye.
Parental abuse is intensified by sibling abuse and sibling denial in both books. Berg's ruined victim of child abuse, Caroline, is about 50, and thus a different generation than Westover.. Caroline first reveals the long hidden and long denied abuse to a therapist, and then begins the arduous and almost self-destroying process of confronting her siblings, rebuilding relationships with , and using the new bond with siblings to confront her mother. What is surprising to both characters in the book and the reader is that Caroline begins a process, not of revenge, but of building a whole new relationship with her mother
Westover, perhaps because of her age, and definitely because her parents deny absolutely any wrongdoing, cannot begin to achieve a new relationship.
Both Westover and Caroline want their siblings to confirm what really happened and they want the past opened up. Sibling memory is crucial in both books, and makes both books somewhat unusual in the literature of abuse. But the situation in Westover is so profoundly abusive that no resolution is actually possible.
Which is more likely? Berg's guilty mother and siblings eventually admit their wrong doing. Westover's parents and siblings deny theirs in fiery denunciations and death-threats. Truthfully, the Westover situation is more believable to me, although the Berg ending is more attractive. Reading Berg, however, was helpful to me.
Westover's book suffers from a lack of distance. The faults in Westover's account lie partially in her continual return to the mountain home and its abuse and partially in what looks like exaggeration. I am troubled by the broken bones that seem to heal miraculously and by what looks like Westover's addiction to masochism. Westover seems as yet unable to fully examine her own complicity in the family drama, although her isolation and the fact that she had no childhood friends except siblings plays into her inability to escape.
The fault in Berg lies in the wishful thinking that a successful "intervention" or rehabilitation is even possible.
Reading Berg made me more able to accept Westover's dilemma as the real thing: that escape is never complete, that death-threats are probably quite common, and that wishful thinking is the most common adult response to childhood abuse and familial mental illness.
Difficult because of my mixed feelings throughout this unusual memoir. As told in all the reviews, this is a story of a superbly dysfunctional family. But as a listener to the horrible abuse and hearing Tara just carry on and even forgive and embrace all the perpetrators, made it difficult for me to remain compassionate to her plight.
Maybe that's not so saintly, but the characters of her father, brother and mother were so disturbing that I couldn't reach that level of understanding.
So I can't say I enjoyed the book, but it certainly was a look into a world I have never known.
I was halfway through this when I heard Westover on NPR and was rather surprised at how she...justified...her father's behavior. She doesn't really do that in the book that much. Yes, she speculates that he's bi-polar, but in the book when she describes the many times he puts his kids in situations that can get them killed (yes, really), and they all end up injured--some quite badly--she just lays it out there without much reflection, internal thoughts, etc. As a result, the reader comes to his/her own conclusion. And I'm guessing that many people's conclusion is that the man is bat shi* crazy.
I had this on my wish list for so long that I didn't re-read the synopsis so I wasn't quite expecting a memoir that essentially boils down to: Woman raised as a survivalist and fundamentalist Mormon, works like a dog from the time she's a little kid, doesn't go to school and gets no education at all, has 2 crazy parents who believe all medicine and doctors are evil among other beliefs that seem utterly insane, who has an abusive brother, yet somehow finds it within herself to get herself into to college (BYU) at age 16.
I guess one can read this as an amazing success story (and it is) but it's a litany of struggle (no surprise there). Once she goes to college, good things do happen to her, but her self-esteem is so low, that she can't even be the tiniest bit happy.
The strangest thing was all the people who bent over backwards to help her. She mostly refused their help and I found myself getting annoyed. Yes, yes, she explains why she refuses, but still. I don't know anyone who has ever been offered THAT much help--or anyone that unwilling to take it.
Yes, things sort of turn out in the end (she definitely gets very educated), but how does one really overcome a childhood like that? The parents don't change, the abusive brother doesn't change. The three who do change are the three who got out, and one of those three is her.
Really, the most amazing thing is that she goes from a level of ignorance I can't even fathom (she didn't know about the civil rights movement or the holocaust, doesn't know the most basic things--like washing your hands after using the bathroom) to someone exceedingly educated in a ten-year span.
There is no doubting that Tara Westover's survival and achievement is nothing short of an amazing feat and she is to be applauded for her strength and determination. You don't have to read between the lines to know very early in this book that this young girl (the author) is being neglected and abused on many levels, in the home of seemingly well-intentioned, loving parents. It creeps in and feels as blatantly incongruent and ugly as a blot on a peaceful bucolic scene. All the more insidious as a wide range of mental disorders throughout the family become obvious and are dismissed and justified -- denial.
I've had to sit back and reflect on this book and the author, as well as allow myself to read the reviews of other readers in order to be objective with Educated. True, it is a story of a miraculous survival and achievement by the author. It is also a sad account, to add to hundreds of accounts we've had to hear, about the destructive effects of abuse and mental illness. I've mentioned before in my reviews I worked with patients that sadly have had very similar stories and they are all heartbreaking so it is nice to read that Ms. Westover is on top of her ordeal. Healing and recovery is a challenging process and I felt Westover, at times, compartmentalized her experiences, speaking from the authority of her academic status.
Her voice in this narrative seems to waiver a bit between assuredness and doubt, which is natural for a recovering person. I could not help wondering -- which is why I waited to read other's reviews to see if I was being too clinical -- if this story was premature in that it felt like the road still reaches out far in front of her journey. It is my hope that in telling her story, feeling the support of readers that themselves gain strength from her fight and acknowledge her accomplishment, Ms. Westover can continue her fight with courage and grace.
*In spite of its capacity to foster compassion, humanness, and understanding, throughout the ages religion has at times been a source of abuse, persecution, terrorism, and genocide. These problems continue today across the world, as illustrated by religiously-based terrorism, clergy sexual abuse, and religiously-supported genocide.* Ms. Westover makes the distinction that her family is Fundamentalist Mormons, which are sects that have separated themselves from the LDS Church. This is a very interesting time in the world culture, and I suspect that by giving voice to abuse on so many different levels, Ms. Westover has added her voice to a brave force that is demanding long needed positive change in all areas where there has been abuse.
This is my first full review. I laughed, I cried real tears, and I got very angry.
Tara: if you read this know that I am rooting for you! No child should ever go through what you have endured! I am so proud of you for learning it is not your fault.
For the reader: I have just sent the last hours captivated by this story. I’ve read a number of books about ex Mormons - mostly people who escaped polygamists. As a recovering catholic I rebel against any and all religions that force people to leave their families because their beliefs are incompatible. But this is more than Mormonism, it is about an extreme uneducated bipolar man, his violent bipolar son, a submissive mother and an intelligent woman’s recovery.
It is quite shocking to discover how people live and the courage it takes to escape. I found it interesting that the three who escaped have PhDs and the four who remain don’t even have. GED. Thinking broadly, in every country, and all societies, the importance of a good education remains the key to independence.
I finished this book in two days flat. Tara's writing transports you into the story completely. Her vulnerability and downright astonishing history of her life is unforgettable. I recommend this book for anyone struggling in relationships dominated with control and abuse. Her bravery is catching.
This book is incredible. Tara's resilience is inspiring. Her honesty, grace, and perseverance through trials that would have broken most people left me in awe. I could not stop listening to this book and found every opportunity to turn on audible to keep hearing her story.