book reviews 

Tara Westover’s Educated was released in 2018 and topped the charts for a long time that year. The book even enjoys a solid rating of 4.5/5 on Goodreads.

 

Educated is a memoir about a girl born and raised in a fundamentalist Mormon household in Idaho.

 

Her father believes that doomsday is arriving and arriving fast.

 

He pushes his family to prepare for it. He doesn’t believe in any of the machinations of the federal government and steers clear of all of them that might make them one of ‘them’. There’s a clear ‘Them’ versus ‘Us ‘in his mind that manifests its way into his family’s life and his choices for them.

 

The author is very as-a-matter-of-fact about her story telling. She asks her readers to also adopt that mindset and to not judge either their way of life or her family members for the way they are. I’m happy she did this, which otherwise is not easy to do if you haven’t personally faced or dealt with fundamentalism, of any sort, yourself.

 

Tara talks about how she’d never set foot in class until she was 17 and from there on, how she went on to earn her doctorate from Cambridge. Born as the last of seven children, she’s subjected to laboring in the farm, the house, the junkyard and faces multiple injuries. Her father and brother decide what’s appropriate for a girl to do and what’s not. She recalls both happy memories and gruesome moments -- such as being bashed by her brother -- in graphic detail. In places, I often found myself questioning the role of her mother who seems to be in the scene but is apparently helpless.  

 

Hailing from India, I see many parallels to her story from similar fundamentalist or even plain conservative groups at home. The word fundamentalist should nail it for us. It is always us or them in their story…if they were pro-choice, they never are fundamentalist in the first place, are they? I don’t question the story that’s already been told. My heart yearns for those millions of stories that are yet to be told on this side of the world. For some reason, I’m both scared and excited at the possibility of such a story seeing the light of the day. More scared, because we may just not be ready to face it.

 

The book has 3 parts and the biggest one of them is part one – her childhood until the time she gets out of the house to go to BYU. Parts 2 and 3 are, in comparison, a bit shorter. She describes her culture shock and the troubles she had to go through to fit in.

 

However, I greatly missed the narrative style of part one in the subsequent parts.

 

I loved and was moved by the bits where she struggles to make peace, or forge relationship, with whatever’s left of her family. Her need for them to remain an anchor of her life is beautiful and is indeed natural. But her fundamentalist family  want to have nothing of her and sever their ties with her, because now she’s not one of them. It is indeed tough on anyone to be cast out of one’s own family. What would’ve made it remarkable is to have shared this journey a bit more. With mental health a huge issue in today’s world, I’d have liked more insight into not just the suffering but the withdrawal from it. More so, when the author understands the bipolar nature of her father and her parents’ protective nature of her brother (who clearly needs help). Maybe, it’s a separate book by itself. Or maybe not. Not to psychoanalyze the author, but it feels like a fight still being fought and the book is about the battles she’s already won, hence the nonchalant story telling as well, perhaps?

 

Of course, in no way I’d undermine the struggles of anyone in an oppressive set up (oppressive just to them) to break free. We all have the right to conduct our lives in the way of our choosing. I liked the narrative, the visual way she recalls her experiences and draws us into her life then and now. Kudos to her for the brave and courageous journey she’s undertaken. 

 

Very good in parts and found wanting in others, it is definitely a good read and I’ll recommend this to anyone who’s up for some shake-up.

 

“The prohibitions of girlhood is not only to hide us girls from others but to hide the world from us”

 

Song of a Captive Bird is Jasmin Darznik's account of the life and works of Forugh Farrokhzad, mostly biographical but some parts filled with the author’s imagination. What is wonderful about this book is that the author has tried to bring to us what the poet’s feelings were during the course of events in her life.

 

As one of the seven children of a military officer in Tehran, Forugh has a relatively privileged childhood. A free spirited child, easily the toughest nut her parents had to handle.

 

Forugh discovers her love for words and poetry as a young girl. She feels attracted to a boyish man; unfortunately only after a few meetings with him, in a quick turn of events, to avoid a mounting scandal she’s married off to the same boy-man. She births a child but leads an unfulfilling life for a while. But her spirit wins her over, she finds solace in words and moves back to Tehran to share them with the world. She meets, loves freely, falls heavily, picks herself up again. Forugh finds another medium of expression, explores the country’s dark side in a docu-story. She finds deep friendships and love all over again…. and she dies.

 

All of these happen intertwined with the political backdrop of Iran, tumultuous at best.

 

With a cultural climate I could relate to, at times I felt the practices, customs are something I’ve seen around me when growing up or heard about from friends and family. With that reasonable familiarity, I definitely appreciate the brazenness of her poetry and the courage it would’ve taken to write them. ‘Sin’ is so beautifully written from a woman’s perspective….it’s everything you’d like to admit to, but slut-shamed if you did. When she boards the train to Tehran each time, one could easily relate to the mother in her. You treasure her friendships for her; you want her to have that peace, even if its only through death.

 

Through the author’s words, you are able to feel the yearning for the country that Iran once was; the richness of its history and the strength of its resources slowly and steadily exploited by the powers that be and condemned a fate that it probably doesn’t deserve. If Forugh hadn’t lived at the time she did, I’m afraid we would’ve lost so much!

 

This is one of those books that moved me quite a bit.......my heart wouldn’t know what to feel enough for...Iran or Forugh.

 

Perspective By

Sowmya Swaminathan

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Sowmya believes in magic and miracles that a good mug of hot chocolate and a nice crisp book can bring. Darker the better :)  Just kidding! A fiction aficionado, she loves rom-coms. No judging!  A good book to her is like a journey that one wishes never ended; nudges those boundaries slightly; gives you that sigh when you finish reading

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