memoir

All posts tagged memoir

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi (buddy read with Jennifer from Tar Heel Reader)

Published February 3, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

THE NEW YORK TIMES NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER
THE SUNDAY TIMES NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER
SHORTLISTED FOR THE WELLCOME BOOK PRIZE 2017

‘Finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option…Unmissable’ New York Times

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.

When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?

Paul Kalanithi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

What did I think?:

When Breath Becomes Air is one of those books that I kept hearing great things about and it had been on my nonfiction shelf for much longer than was sensible before I got cross with myself and put it on my Nonfiction November TBR in an effort to ensure it was finally read! Well, thank goodness for buddy reads and Jennifer, a blogger bestie of mine who blogs over at Tar Heel Reader. She too had been desperate to read this book and sent me a message suggesting we should read it together. Of course I jumped at the chance. I count myself so very lucky to be able to buddy read with a quartet of wonderful bloggers and we always have such deep, meaningful and rewarding conversations about our reads that sometimes I wonder whether I should read every single book in my collection with a partner?!

Let’s be completely honest here. When Breath Becomes Air was never going to be an easy read. If you weren’t already aware, the book is a memoir following a respected neurosurgeon’s battle when he is diagnosed with cancer and, devastatingly, he passes away before he has a chance to finish the book. As a reader, you go into it knowing this cold, hard information but strangely enough (even though it’s ludicrous to say as you’re well aware of the ending), you feel a burst of hope throughout that the story might end up having a happy outcome. One of the worst things is reminding yourself that it doesn’t and that whole anticipation of the emotional trauma to come is nothing short of horrific.

Paul Kalanithi, author of When Breath Becomes Air, published posthumously in January 2016.

This wasn’t an absolutely perfect read for me – there were points where Paul is describing his college years that I’m sad to say, dragged slightly but one thing I will take away from this astonishing memoir is how poignant and gut-wrenching his journey was whilst battling stage IV metastatic lung cancer. He had this incredible lust for life and his passion for literature and writing really made me feel warm towards him as an individual. I also appreciated how he talked about his relationship with his wife and about himself as a person. There were flaws, there were issues but his brutal honesty about this made me respect him even more and believe in the authenticity of what he was saying.

When Breath Becomes Air is truly an evocative and heart-breaking read. I admired the determination with which Paul continued with his career despite having such a life-altering diagnosis and how he continued to achieve great things despite being racked with pain as the cancer slowly ravaged his body. I even found myself getting frustrated at times, particularly in the beginning when he suspected something was wrong with him but was too fearful to get it confirmed by another medical professional. Would he have been in a different situation if he had been diagnosed sooner? Probably not, his cancer was particularly invasive and aggressive but the thought of it made my stomach churn.

The most distressing parts of the book personally speaking came right at the end. Paul and his wife Lucy decide to have a child and Paul writes about holding her beside his hospital bed right near the end of his life. It filled me with sadness and despair, realising that that poor little girl would never really know her father although I think it’s wonderful that Lucy is keeping his memory alive in so many ways and that she will always have this book as a testament to her father’s life. Then there was *that* epilogue written by Lucy as Paul was unable to finish the book. Well, I was in bits by this time. I can’t imagine the bravery that it must have taken for her to write what she did and remain so hopeful for herself and her daughter’s future.

This is such an incredibly moving and thought-provoking read that I really believe will stay etched on my memory for years to come. If you’ve been putting it off like I had been, I very much recommend giving it a shot, it’s such an affecting reading experience. Thank you so much to Jennifer for reading it with me and the deep, fascinating conversation that we had – I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

For Jennifer’s fabulous review, please see her post HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Previous buddy reads with Jennifer @ Tar Heel Reader

Elmet by Fiona Mozley – check out my review HERE and her review HERE.

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Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay And A Mother’s Will To Survive – Stephanie Land

Published January 27, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Evicted meets Nickel and Dimed in Stephanie Land’s memoir about working as a maid, a beautiful and gritty exploration of poverty in America. Includes a foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich.

“My daughter learned to walk in a homeless shelter.”

While the gap between upper middle-class Americans and the working poor widens, grueling low-wage domestic and service work–primarily done by women–fuels the economic success of the wealthy. Stephanie Land worked for years as a maid, pulling long hours while struggling as a single mom to keep a roof over her daughter’s head. In Maid, she reveals the dark truth of what it takes to survive and thrive in today’s inequitable society.

While she worked hard to scratch her way out of poverty as a single parent, scrubbing the toilets of the wealthy, navigating domestic labor jobs, higher education, assisted housing, and a tangled web of government assistance, Stephanie wrote. She wrote the true stories that weren’t being told. The stories of overworked and underpaid Americans.

Written in honest, heart-rending prose and with great insight, Maid explores the underbelly of upper-middle class America and the reality of what it’s like to be in service to them. “I’d become a nameless ghost,” Stephanie writes. With this book, she gives voice to the “servant” worker, those who fight daily to scramble and scrape by for their own lives and the lives of their children.

What did I think?:

This review comes with a huge thank you to the lovely people at Orion Books who hosted an event just before Christmas entitled Books and Baubles where I managed to pick up a review copy of this moving memoir which was published on 24th January this year. I think I mentioned in a recent review that I love to read nonfiction that’s going to teach me a little something and if it has the ability to touch my heart in addition, well that’s a win-win situation for me! Reading real-live stories from normal individuals living extraordinary lives is another aspect that might draw me into picking up a book and when I read that it followed a single mother struggling to raise her daughter in impoverished circumstances within modern day America, I was too intrigued to let it slip through my fingers and had to pick it up and check it out.

On finishing and having been incredibly moved throughout, it hammered home how lucky I was in my current situation to have a guaranteed decent wage, roof over my head, supportive partner and the ability to treat myself on a monthly basis. Stephanie Land’s daily struggles to achieve the things I occasionally take for granted was both eye-opening and thought-provoking and I was constantly touched by her determination, ridiculously strong work ethic and maternal instinct to ensure her child never wanted for too much, even if it meant going without things herself.

Stephanie Land, author of Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay And A Mother’s Will To Survive.

Maid follows Stephanie’s tumultuous life with her daughter, from teaching her to walk in a homeless shelter to her difficult relationship with her daughter’s father. We watch her fight for appropriate, affordable housing that is still inadequate and has devastating consequences for her child’s health and witness her steely resolution to work as many hours it takes just to provide enough food for her family and keep them both warm and comfortable. The only work she is able to take on is as a maid which involves back-breaking tasks, a constant supply of energy and resolve for very little money. She has no choice but to pay for childcare whilst she is working and has to use a car to move between different jobs so the wages she makes barely covers all these necessities and she is forced to rely on government assistance just so she and her daughter can eat.

I was raised in a working-class family where before my mother went back to university and forged a career for herself, she was a mainly stay-at-home parent with my father receiving the only wage for our house (from the army, which wasn’t huge). We never knew poverty and for that I feel incredibly grateful but we weren’t well-off either and there were times when we couldn’t have everything we desired. However, all three of us never wanted for anything and I know my mum would have taken food from her own mouth if it meant that we ate that evening. Luckily, I don’t believe that was ever necessary. As I have a very close relationship with my mum, I really responded to Stephanie’s emotional connection with her daughter and her instinct to protect and defend her, even if that meant Stephanie suffering herself as a result.

Apart from being quite an emotional read, this book was memorable to me in the way it made me think deeply about situations I hadn’t really appreciated before now. For example, what it feels like to have to work so hard for very little and still not have enough money to be able to do things that you would enjoy. Then there’s the shame that Stephanie felt about having to rely on food stamps and how she was treated by (some very ignorant, might I say) individuals because of that. That is to say, people saying to her “you’re welcome!,” referring to the fact that it was their tax money that paid for her shopping or judging what she bought with her food stamps – particularly if it was chocolate or a treat for her daughter. It made me so mad! I found her relationship with her family and her daughter’s father especially upsetting as well. She really didn’t have a decent support system in place and some of her family’s attitudes or deliberate ignoring of her situation really made my blood boil.

I respect and admire Stephanie Land so much for first of all writing this book and secondly, for making other people more aware of the situation that has become a ridiculous kind of normal for many people all over the globe who are just trying to make ends meet and survive but are subject to hideous poverty and unstable living conditions. It was a poignant, revealing read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey To Freedom – Yeonmi Park with Maryanne Vollers

Published January 19, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Human rights activist Park, who fled North Korea with her mother in 2007 at age 13 and eventually made it to South Korea two years later after a harrowing ordeal, recognized that in order to be “completely free,” she had to confront the truth of her past. It is an ugly, shameful story of being sold with her mother into slave marriages by Chinese brokers, and although she at first tried to hide the painful details when blending into South Korean society, she realized how her survival story could inspire others. Moreover, her sister had also escaped earlier and had vanished into China for years, prompting the author to go public with her story in the hope of finding her sister.

What did I think?:

One of the things I love best about reading nonfiction is taking the opportunity to find out more about different countries, cultures and belief systems and North Korea is one of those places that has fascinated me for a long time now. We hear so much in the media about the totalitarian regime i.e. the country being sealed off from nearby potential allies, the punishments doled out to those who try and escape, the secretive nature of how they conduct their business and the absence of freedom of thought/speech. There have been a few books published in recent years from individuals willing to speak out against the regime and I’ve been meaning to check one out so I was delighted to find In Order To Live on Audible which I managed to download and listen to in its entirety in a very short space of time.

Now I have to be honest, I really didn’t get on very well with the audio narration of this book and sadly, this did factor into my general enjoyment but I’ll go into that a bit later. I do firmly believe that if I had read this book rather than listened to it, I would have appreciated it a lot more so whilst I may not necessarily recommend the audiobook format, for Yeonmi’s harrowing story alone, I would definitely classify it as a “must read,” particularly if you’re interested in finding out more about North Korea or the refugee experience.

Yeonmi Park, author of the memoir In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey To Freedom.

When I first became an avid reader, I almost always stayed in one lane genre wise and tended to only read very narrowly within a specific field – mostly thrillers and crime fiction. Nonfiction wasn’t really for me, I did give it a go at times but in hindsight, I was picking completely the wrong things and nothing seemed to grab my attention or keep me interested until the end and I often gave up, professing that I was primarily a fiction reader. I’m so happy I carried on pushing myself nonfiction wise until I realised the kind of books that I would enjoy and In Order To Live falls perfectly into a few of my specifications. I like to be educated, informed, surprised, moved and challenged with nonfiction and this book did all these things for me, to the extent where I still think about Yeonmi and parts of her life even though it’s been a good couple of months since I finished listening to her story.

I wanted to learn more about North Korea and I knew it was going to be an emotional read but I still wasn’t prepared for how some of their rules and regulations would shock and indeed, anger me. Of course, growing up in a repressive state where you’re taught how to think and feel from the moment you are born is normal and natural for Yeonmi in the beginning as it’s all she’s ever known. However, it’s only when she manages to escape and see how the rest of the world lives that she realises how dangerous and destructive such a way of thinking can be for an entire population. Imagine being at school and being taught mathematics in the terms of war. I’m paraphrasing here but children were basically told: “if you have ten Yankee bastards and six of them are shot, how many Yankee bastards are left?” I don’t think I’ll ever forget that, it had a huge impact on me. I mean, if something like that becomes the norm for teaching such young children, what hope is there for their future and how they view other people, really?

A parade of North Korean soldiers.

I hope regular readers will appreciate that I’m always completely honest in my reviews and this is something I feel I have to be honest about but I feel awful for doing it. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t get on with the audio narration of this book and it was such a shame. I’d just like to mention that I love that they got a Korean girl to narrate the story, it made Yeonmi’s life much more authentic and my issue was nothing to do with her accent at all. How do I explain? I just felt that it came across like she was reading a script and at times it felt a bit mechanical and emotionless. Of course, this could be because English was her second language and I absolutely salute her for her obvious mastery of English BUT I felt that Yeonmi’s story was packed full of emotion, hardship and brutality and at times, I felt like I needed a narration where I could really feel the sentiments of the more horrific parts of the story. I really don’t mean to offend anyone, it’s just my personal opinion and it just makes a larger impact on me as a reader when I can really feel all the feelings, you know?

Aside from this minor niggle, I found myself thoroughly intrigued and touched by Yeonmi’s life. Not only did she have to grow up in such a difficult way but her childhood, innocence, dreams and hopes were ripped away from her in a way that could have been entirely preventable if she had lived in a different place. Moreover, I have to give her so much respect for speaking out against the regime and putting her own life at risk in order to try and prevent other young girls going through what she went through at such a young age. She’s a brave, inspirational young woman who has been through such trauma and suffering and emerged out the other side stronger, independent and much more resilient as a result.

I’d love to know your thoughts on In Order To Live if you’ve read it, especially if you listened to the audiobook. Did you have the same feelings as me? Please let me know in the comments below!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Nonfiction November Week 5: New To My TBR

Published December 2, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to the final week of Nonfiction November! If you’d like to find out what it’s all about, please see my post two weeks ago where I revealed my Nonfiction November TBR. my post for Week 1 where I talked briefly about my year in nonfiction so far and Week 2 where I paired up three nonfiction books alongside similar fiction tomes. Week 3 invited us to Be The Expert/Ask The Expert/Become The Expert and in Week 4 I talked about books that “read like fiction.”

This week, I’m going to talk about nonfiction books that I’ve added to my TBR through the month of Nonfiction November inspired by all my fellow bloggers out there. It’s hosted by Katie (@ Doing Dewey), please find the link to her post HERE.

It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

Oh, there are so many. I’ve chosen to highlight a few that really intrigued me and I’m most likely to put on my wish list soon.

Here we go!

1.) A River In Darkness: One Man’s Escape From North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa

This book comes recommended from Rennie at What’s Nonfiction. I listened to In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey To Freedom by Yeonmi Park recently and was extremely moved by her story so I’d love to read anything else based around the Korean totalitarian regime.

2.) Everything Is Normal: The Life And Times Of A Soviet Kid by Sergey Grechishkin

Also from Rennie, I spied this fascinating memoir set in the 1970’s-1980’s just preceding the collapse of the USSR. I love reading about Russian history but haven’t read anything set after the 1950’s so I’d love to dive into this one at some point.

3.) Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – And The World by Rachel Swaby

This book comes courtesy of Katie from Doing Dewey and as a woman, feminist and scientist I really think I need to read it!

4.) Born A Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

This memoir comes extremely highly recommended from my good friend and fellow blogger, Janel at Keeper Of Pages. She listened to it recently and raved about it and you can check out her review HERE. I featured this book on the #nonficnov Instagram challenge and it sits on my Audible TBR just waiting to be devoured.

There were so many others I could have picked but I thought I would limit myself to four for now, after all I already have two shelves worth of nonfiction still to read myself, I don’t want to get too carried away! I’d love to know if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought of them. Let me know down below in the comments!

Lastly, thank you so much to the hosts of Nonfiction November, Doing Dewey, What’s Nonfiction, Sarah’s Bookshelves, Sophisticated Dorkiness and JulzReads for a terrific month of challenges. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed taking part and will definitely be taking part again next year! Thanks also to the hosts of the Instagram challenge, Kim @kimthedork and Leann @ Shelf_Aware_, I was so proud of myself that I managed to find a book for every single prompt this year – yaay, go me! 😀

Love Beth xx

 

Nonfiction November Week 4: Reads Like Fiction

Published November 24, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to the fourth week of Nonfiction November! If you’d like to find out what it’s all about, please see my post two weeks ago where I revealed my Nonfiction November TBR. my post for Week 1 where I talked briefly about my year in nonfiction so far and Week 2 where I paired up three nonfiction books alongside similar fiction tomes. Week 3 invited us to Be The Expert/Ask The Expert/Become The Expert.

This week as the title suggests, it’s all about non-fiction that “reads like fiction,” and is hosted by the lovely Rennie from What’s Nonfiction. You can check out her post HERE.

Nonfiction books often get praised for how they stack up to fiction. Does it matter to you whether nonfiction reads like a novel? If it does, what gives it that fiction-like feeling? Does it depend on the topic, the writing, the use of certain literary elements and techniques? What are your favorite nonfiction recommendations that read like fiction? And if your nonfiction picks could never be mistaken for novels, what do you love about the differences?

I’ve found this topic so interesting this week and have been racking my brains regarding my personal thoughts on it. I have to admit, it took me a little while to find my niche in nonfiction, I used to read solely fiction and found the nonfiction I was picking up a little dry and uninspiring. It’s only over the past six or seven years or so (and mainly due to the interaction with all you lovely bookish folk) that I’ve found nonfiction that really works for me.

As I mentioned in my previous posts this month, this tends to fall in the categories of popular science (particularly neuroscience but I’ll read anything really!), psychology, feminism, books about books and anything animal/nature related. I’ve only recently started getting into memoirs after reading two stonkingly good ones this year – I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O’Farrell and Educated by Tara Westover and am dipping my toes into the true crime genre after enjoying I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara.

Nonfiction doesn’t have to read like a novel for me to get something personal or moving from it – the memoirs I’ve mentioned above are a perfect example but I have to say, the O’Farrell and the Westover did have a bit of a “fiction flair,” and gave me the same sort of feeling as if I was reading a novel i.e. all the emotions and all of the pace and grittiness that you get from a captivating story. Then there’s the books that fall in the middle. They don’t necessarily read like fiction but at the same time you’re completely gripped throughout and find it difficult to put the book down.

Animal:The Autobiography Of A Female Body by Sara Pascoe for me is one of those in-between books which I read and reviewed last year and if you’re interested you can read my review HERE. It was hilariously funny, eye-opening, feminist and frank and made me angry for all the right reasons. I find it difficult to give nonfiction five stars usually as there’s almost always a certain point of the book, no matter how brief where either the pace slows or the topic becomes a little dry. This wasn’t the case with Animal, it was an easy, no-brainer of a five stars and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

On the other hand, a lot of the popular science I read certainly doesn’t have a story-telling or gripping “must read another page right now” style and that’s okay too – sometimes when I read a nonfiction, I want to be informed, educated and learn something a bit different and usually, I prefer to read these books in smaller chunks to absorb all the information I’m being given.

One book that pops into my mind is Stiff: The Curious Lives Of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, which I read in my pre-blogging days but was another automatic five stars from me. It is a fascinating and occasionally humorous look at death and what happens to our bodies postmortem and was a completely fascinating and illuminating read. It’s a book filled with mind-boggling facts that I read in small doses but was written in such an approachable way that I never felt overwhelmed with the scientific aspects of the topic. I must get round to reading some more Mary Roach soon!

Hope you enjoyed reading this post and have found something you might be interested in reading too. I’d love to know your thoughts on the books I’ve mentioned so please let me know in the comments below if you’ve read them or want to read them!

Coming up next week on Nonfiction November Week 5: New to My TBR (hosted by Katie @ Doing Dewey) – the last week of Nonfiction November!

 

Mini Pin-It Reviews #27 – Four Graphic Novels

Published November 15, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to another mini pin-it reviews post! I have a massive backlog of reviews and this is my way of trying to get on top of things a bit. This isn’t to say I didn’t like some of these books – my star rating is a more accurate reflection of this, but this is a great, snappy way of getting my thoughts across and decreasing my backlog a bit. This time I’ve got four graphic novels for you – please see my pin-it thoughts below!

1.) Noughts & Crosses Graphic Novel – Malorie Blackman and John Aggs (Illustrator)

What’s it all about?:

Callum is a nought – an inferior white citizen in a society controlled by the black Crosses.

Sephy is a Cross – and the daughter of one of the most powerful, ruthless men in the country.

In their hostile, violent world, noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. But when Sephy and Callum’s childhood friendship grows into love, they’re determined to find a way to be together.

And then the bomb explodes . . .

The long-awaited graphic novel adaptation of one of the most influential, critically acclaimed and original novels of all time, from multi-award-winning Malorie Blackman.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

2.) Dotter Of Her Father’s Eyes – Mary M. Talbot, Bryan Talbot

What’s it all about?:

Part personal history, part biography, Dotter of Her Father”s Eyes contrasts two coming-of-age narratives: that of Lucia, the daughter of James Joyce, and that of author Mary Talbot, daughter of the eminent Joycean scholar James S. Atherton. Social expectations and gender politics, thwarted ambitions and personal tragedy are played out against two contrasting historical backgrounds, poignantly evoked by the atmospheric visual storytelling of award-winning graphic-novel pioneer Bryan Talbot. Produced through an intense collaboration seldom seen between writers and artists, Dotter of Her Father”s Eyes is smart, funny, and sad – an essential addition to the evolving genre of graphic memoir.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

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3.) Nimona – Noelle Stevenson

What’s it all about?:

The graphic novel debut from rising star Noelle Stevenson, based on her beloved and critically acclaimed web comic, which Slate awarded its Cartoonist Studio Prize, calling it “a deadpan epic.”

Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel is perfect for the legions of fans of the web comic and is sure to win Noelle many new ones.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

4.) Sally Heathcote: Suffragette – Mary M. Talbot, Bryan Talbot, Kate Charlesworth

What’s it all about?:

Sally Heathcote: Suffragette is a gripping inside story of the campaign for votes for women. A tale of loyalty, love and courage, set against a vividly realised backdrop of Edwardian Britain, it follows the fortunes of a maid-of-all-work swept up in the feminist militancy of the era. Sally Heathcote: Suffragette is another stunning collaboration from Costa Award winners, Mary and Bryan Talbot. Teamed up with acclaimed illustrator Kate Charlesworth, Sally Heathcote‘s lavish pages bring history to life.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

COMING UP NEXT TIME ON MINI PIN-IT REVIEWS: Four YA Novels.

Educated – Tara Westover

Published November 13, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days, watching for the sun to darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood. She spent her summers bottling peaches and her winters rotating emergency supplies, hoping that when the World of Men failed, her family would continue on, unaffected.

She hadn’t been registered for a birth certificate. She had no school records because she’d never set foot in a classroom, and no medical records because her father didn’t believe in doctors or hospitals. According to the state and federal government, she didn’t exist.

As she grew older, her father became more radical, and her brother, more violent. At sixteen Tara decided to educate herself. Her struggle for knowledge would take her far from her Idaho mountains, over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d travelled too far. If there was still a way home.

EDUCATED is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with the severing of the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has, from her singular experience, crafted a universal coming-of-age story, one that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers – the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.

What did I think?:

I honestly don’t think I’ve heard a bad review of this memoir so I was super excited to listen to it in audiobook format (which I’ve also heard highly praised) recently. I’ve recently started listening to more books by audio and I always thought the format wasn’t for me – I found I got easily distracted, lost into daydreams and hadn’t listened to a word the narrator had said in the past five minutes or so, leaving me completely lost! However, I don’t find this problem with non-fiction and if it’s a genuinely compelling narration, my thoughts don’t seem to drift as much. This was definitely the case with Educated where the narrator, Julia Whelan did a stellar job of bringing Tara’s story to life and I found myself excited every time I pulled on my little pink headphones to catch up with Tara and her astounding journey once more.

Tara Westover, author of the memoir Educated.

Educated reads almost like a recurring nightmare that you can’t seem to wake up from and I was appalled and fascinated in equal measure by the journey Tara goes on as an individual and how she eventually seeks to better herself through education after receiving no formal schooling until the age of seventeen. She was raised in a Mormon household with six other siblings (five brothers and a sister), a paranoid survivalist father who insisted the End Of Days was near and a diminutive, compliant mother who yielded to her husband’s every demand, no matter how ridiculous. The family didn’t believe in many things – medicine, the government and education to name a few and when accidents or illness befell one of them, they were treated by their mother who also moonlighted as a herbalist.

Tara goes through so many terrible things in her childhood. As well as dealing with her father’s mental health concerns, herself and members of her family go through the most horrific accidents that occur mainly due to the physical nature of their risky work in her father’s junkyard but occur twice in vehicles where shockingly, seatbelts are not compulsory for the family! Tara also has to deal with an increasingly aggressive, controlling and violent older brother whose constant physical and emotional abuse is either played down or completely ignored by her parents.

Bucks Peak, Idaho where Tara and her family were based.

It is of little surprise that Tara decides one day she has suffered enough and wants to succeed in the world outside the isolated, suffocating atmosphere that she finds herself in at home. She begins to teach herself basic mathematics and history and to cut a long story short, she exceeds even her own expectations and ends up going to both Harvard and Cambridge University, achieving a PhD. Unfortunately, her many years of being indoctrinated as a Mormon and a survivalist plague her daily, making her question both her abilities and her own worth, particularly as she receives little support or praise from her family.

This was such a moving and thought-provoking read and really reminds me why I need to give memoirs more of a chance as a genre. Tara’s story is so inspirational and touching and I found myself really rooting for her to get the chance to live a better life and realise the things she was told as a child may have been merely delusions and paranoia. Tara comes across as a vulnerable child transformed into a stronger, more resilient woman and I had nothing but admiration and respect for her sticking to her guns, fully deserving all that she achieved. It made for difficult reading at points, that’s for sure and some of the incidents that she had to witness were truly horrendous and at times heart-breaking. However, it just made me think even more highly of her as a person and appreciate the relatively calm, simple life I’ve led myself in comparison!

I wouldn’t be surprised if Educated makes it to my top ten books of the year. It’s an incredible piece of writing and an eye-opening account of an extraordinary life that has to be read to be believed.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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