How Tara Westover escaped from a Mormon survivalist family to gain a doctorate at Cambridge University
Tara Westover spent her childhood up a mountain in Idaho preparing for the End of Days. Her parents were Mormon survivalists who stockpiled weapons and ammunition, food and fuel. The agencies of government and wider society – everything from birth certificates to penicillin to a classroom education – were banned.
Any attempt to be a normal girl – ballet, lip gloss, a skirt above the knee – was met with accusations of biblical sin and violent attacks from one of her brothers. Her parents were so devout that neither a car crash that left her mother with a brain-injury nor an industrial fire in which her father was seriously burnt saw them reach for help from the outside world.
Tara Westover spent her childhood up a mountain in Idaho preparing for the End of Days
Yet when Tara was 17, she abandoned her family’s lifestyle to seek an education without ever having had one. From a local university where her first term saw her put up her hand in class to ask what the Holocaust was, she went to Cambridge to study for a doctorate. Her memoir, Educated, tells the story of this extraordinary shift from hillbillies to hallowed halls of learning and, finally, Harvard.
Educated, tells the story of an extraordinary shift from hillbillies to hallowed halls of learning and, finally, Harvard
It’s a journey she made alone – her parents begged her to undergo an exorcism and come home. Today the family is estranged.
‘I have many good memories of my childhood, breaking horses with my brother, making herbal tinctures with my mother and the zip wire my father built between a crane and a tractor,’ says Tara, 32. ‘The cost of leaving that life was high. People with different parents might imagine reconciliation is right around the corner but the hardest thing about estrangement is genuinely not knowing the future.’
Her book has received widespread acclaim: Barack Obama has described her work as ‘remarkable’. ‘I’ve still got gaps in my knowledge,’ says Westover, modestly. ‘I only found out who James Dean was recently. There’s a lot of pop culture missing.’