Mormon faith

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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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Talking About A Song For Issy Bradley by Carys Bray with Chrissi Reads

Published September 6, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Sometimes however much you love someone, you can’t understand them.
Ian used to think that his life had been disappointingly easy, compared to the pioneers. He had a happy marriage, four children, a satisfactory job and, for just over a year, he has served the church in his role as Bishop of the local congregation, an enormous responsibility.
And then Issy died.
Now his wife, Claire, won’t get out of their dead daughter’s bottom bunk and she won’t speak. Claire doesn’t want a blessing or a sympathy card and she’s got nothing to say to the Lord. She just wants to be left alone to be sad.
Ian doesn’t know what to do to make things better. Zippy and Alma are trying to combine living with grieving and being Mormons with being teenagers. Only seven-year-old Jacob has a plan. He knows that his faith is bigger than a mustard seed; it’s at least as big as a toffee bonbon, maybe bigger. It’s clear that if he wants Issy back, it’s up to him to perform a resurrection miracle.
Incredibly moving, unexpectedly funny and so sharply observed it will make you feel as if you could pick the woodchip off the bedroom wall, A Song for Issy Bradley is about doubt and faith. But most of all it’s about a family trying to work out how to carry on when their world has been blown apart.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: Did you have any preconceptions of the Mormon faith before reading this book? Did they change at all?
BETH: I didn’t really. I haven’t read much about the Mormon faith apart from one Sherlock Holmes story and am sadly lacking in general knowledge about it. It was nice to read a contemporary novel that explored being a Mormon in today’s world especially in their interactions with non-believers and the children of the family especially one of the older adolescents Al, who is beginning to question his faith. Compared with Zippy who desperately wants to be a “good” Mormon and the youngest child Jacob who believes he can resurrect his sister it was interesting to see how the faith manifested and changed throughout the family.
BETH: Did you have any expectations going into this novel and were they met?
CHRISSI: I didn’t have any expectations at all. To be honest, I went into this novel without knowing what it was about. I just picked it up and started to read it. It was only when there was a strong religious tone to the novel that I went and looked up the synopsis to see what I was letting myself in for. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book even though it frustrated me greatly at many points.
CHRISSI: Examine the treatment of grief in the novel. How is it expressed through the different members of the family?
BETH: When I first started this book it had lots of lovely jokes in it which really amused me and I thought – “Okay, so it’s going to be a funny-sad novel, great!” And then Issy dies. And it’s horrible. Each member of the family deals with their heart break in their own ways – Ian tries to assimilate all of the Mormon teachings and tries to get on with things, Al seems to be repressing a lot of his emotions, Zippy leans on her faith to get her through and sweet little Jacob doesn’t seem to realise that Issy really isn’t coming back (despite his best attempts!). Poor Claire is the worse affected, it is a struggle for her to put one foot in front of another and it was quite emotional to read about how she became a virtual recluse as the result of the loss of her daughter.
BETH: Who was your favourite character and why?
CHRISSI: My favourite character was the ever so sweet Jacob. I loved reading about him as he struggled to come to terms with the loss of his sister. He really needed his mum and she wasn’t able to be there for him as she drowned in her own grief. I wanted to reach into the book and give him a cuddle. When he was trying to ‘resurrect’ his sister it absolutely broke my heart. I just thought he was an incredibly lovable character.
CHRISSI: What did you think of Ian as a character?
BETH: Oh my goodness, Ian annoyed the hell out of me. I felt terrible for him as he tried to deal with his loss the best way he thought he could, by carrying on but his whole reaction to his wife’s unbearable pain seemed cold at times (although we see his real emotions towards the end). He was so devoted to his religion that it was hard for him to take on any other point of view and in some points, it almost felt like he was brain washed, married to his religion rather than to his wife, Claire.
BETH: The relationship between Claire and Ian is a key part of the novel. What do you think about the dynamics of their marriage?
CHRISSI: This is an interesting question. I really questioned Claire and Ian’s relationship. I felt like Ian was definitely the dominant partner. Claire had taken on being Mormon to be with Ian even though it completely changed her life, so she must have really loved him. I found his dedication to his religion incredibly intense and at times, it felt like his faith was more important to him than his family. His lack of warmth for his wife’s awful experience with grief was frustrating. I felt like he was trying to hide her grief away from members of the church as if it was something to be ashamed of. Ooh, he frustrated me. I’m fine with people having religious beliefs, but it certainly seemed like Ian’s religion was more important to him. I wanted him to see how much his family needed him not his faith. I think be begins to redeem himself towards the end, but it was too little too late for me!
CHRISSI: Without spoilers, were you satisfied with the ending of this novel?
BETH: Unfortunately, I wasn’t. It was such a shame as I was completely engrossed in the story right up until the end and without giving anything away, it felt slightly abrupt and that things were left a bit unfinished. Saying this though, we do see a slight glimmer of hope for the future so I managed to put my tissues away!
BETH: Would you read another book by this author?
CHRISSI: Yes! I thought it was an enjoyable read, sad but funny in parts. I thought the writing style was good too!

 

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

 

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

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CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

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