By Vijitha Yapa

The title isn’t impressive since it consists of only a single word – Educated. And even though the cover of the book simply shows an old photo of a child on a swing, the pages inside narrate one of the best stories I’ve ever read.

Tara was born to a Mormon family in Idaho. Her birth wasn’t registered until she was 17 and  Tara never attended primary school. Since they preferred home remedies, her parents and siblings didn’t believe in going to hospital. Even when suffering from major burns, they opted for healing through medicinal plants.

Her father stuck to the Mormon bible, counted the days to the ‘abomination of desolation’ and was devastated when the world didn’t end in 2012.

But Tara is fortunate that he didn’t practise polygamy like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) president Brigham Young who had 55 wives and 56 children, and LDS apostle Heber C. Kimball who had 43 wives and 66 children.

Tara’s suffering at the hands of an abusive elder brother who assaulted her when she didn’t obey his commands were terrible experiences. Though Tara suffered enormously, she remained stoic and never gave up on life. When she first attended a formal school, Tara was able to join a senior class although she’d missed nursery and primary school.

And through sheer perseverance, she ended up graduating from both Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

The family survived through the income generated from the scrapyard her father owned. It contained a range of derelict automobiles, and was able to provide spare parts for cars and trucks.

Her mother knew the secrets of ancient herbal remedies and used them to create potions that won recognition in their community. The people she cured became her best advertisements in life and later, the earnings from these potions helped sustain the family.

Tara was home-schooled by her mother but that wasn’t enough to satisfy her and she always endeavoured to educate herself. The school bus on the highway whizzed by but there was no place in it for her brothers or her. As far as the state of Idaho and federal government were concerned, the Westover children didn’t exist.

Four of the seven didn’t have birth certificates because her father didn’t want to register their births in case the government forced them to go to school. The children were born at home and didn’t have any school records… because they never went to school.

But even though her father objected to Tara attending school initially, he gave in eventually – so Tara attended school because of her persistence.

Her father didn’t like her reading books. On one occasion when he caught her reading, he insisted that she help him carry water across the field to water his fruit plants. While this may not seem unusual on the face of it, this demand was made during a rainstorm.

This is the story of a woman who displayed resilience, and survived both her poor background and father’s extreme religious beliefs.

The feuds and violence in the family are described in detail, particularly one occasion when her brother placed a blood soaked knife in her hand. Later, she was horrified to learn that the knife had been used to kill the dog, which was a household pet.

Tara’s struggles, which are etched in detail, describe the limitations she faced as a result of being born into a poor family and how she moved beyond its limiting environment to focus on her dream.

There was no one to cheer her on as she tried to be educated – except Prof. Kerry, who helped her win a scholarship to Cambridge. There were many times when she was close to giving up but sheer doggedness carried her through.

Despite all the abuse she faced at home, Tara never wanted to break contact with her family. Though alienating her dysfunctional relations was far from Tara’s mind, circumstances forced her to make decisions – and look out for new horizons that would help achieve her expectations.

After reading her book, Bill Gates said that it was an amazing story that was truly inspiring. This is neither fiction nor a novel; it’s Tara’s story and every minute one spends to read the book is worth the time.

On the subject of education, there’s a story being told about how environmental activist Greta Thunberg once asked the Chinese to stop using chopsticks, to save trees. The Chinese pointed out that chopsticks are made from bamboo, which belongs to the true grass family Poaceae.

They asked Greta to get her facts straight… and then carry out a campaign in the West against the use of toilet paper since it is made from trees!