But that is where the similarities end.
While my own parents purchased some crates of seeds in preparation for Y2K, Tara’s dug an entire cellar under the hill for gasoline and created an armory for the End of Times. Tara was never registered with a birth certificate, and never given any vaccinations. Insurance payments were stopped. Her father was the powering force behind the mistrust of the government.
“My father was not a tall man but he was able to command a room. He had a presence about him, the solemnity of an oracle. His hands were thick and leathery—the hands of a man who’d been hard at work all his life—and they grasped the Bible firmly.”
Her mother was a lay midwife who would charge $500 a delivery. She embraced the natural world and claimed that modern medicine was evil, so blood pressure was treated with hawthorne and st john’s wort treated preterm contractions.
Cloistered away at Buck’s Peak mountain in rural Idaho, Tara would help her mother mix cloudy mixtures and measure oils, or assist her father sorting scrap in a junkyard.
It seemed that every chapter was filled with an encounter with a near death injury. Multiple car accidents, bruised and bleeding brains, severe third degree burns, a 26 week baby delivered at home. All treated at home with a grim determination because of a pernicious view of the medical establishment.
This story is inspiring as we witness Tara’s ultimate decision to leave her family in order to develop an education. Her words have a rawness as she details her intellectual epiphanies as she navigates the outside world.
At BYU, she tells of how she innocently asked what the Holocaust was during a lecture in art class. Everyone was appalled, misunderstanding her ignorance for that of a Holocaust-denier.
After that horrific misunderstanding, she resolved to never let her ignorance get the better of her, and she continued to read and read.
I loved her passages where she details her awe for learning different concepts. Passion inspires passion, and I’m inspired to teach myself more from authors I formerly hadn’t navigated based upon her assessment of the lessons they impart.
“I’d come to BYU to study music, so that one day I could direct a church choir. But that semester—the fall of my junior year—I didn’t enroll in a single music course. I couldn’t have explained why I dropped advanced music theory in favor of geography and comparative politics, or gave up sight-singing to take History of the Jews. But when I’d seen those courses in the catalog, and read their titles aloud, I had felt something infinite, and I wanted a taste of that infinity.”
A taste of that infinity.
She was recommended by a professor to apply for a program at Cambridge, and she was accepted.
“The first time I saw King’s College, Cambridge, I didn’t think I was dreaming, but only because my imagination had never produced anything so grand.”
“I attended a seminary on Wednesday afternoons, where I noticed two women, Katrina and Sophie, who nearly always sat together. I never spoke to them until one afternoon a few weeks before Christmas, when they asked if I’d like to get a coffee. I’d never “gotten a coffee” before—I’d never even tasted coffee, because it is forbidden by the church—but I followed them across the street and into a café. The cashier was impatient so I chose at random. She passed me a doll-sized cup with a tablespoon of mud-colored liquid in it, and I looked longingly at the foamy mugs Katrina and Sophie carried to our table. They debated concepts from the lecture; I debated whether to drink my coffee. They used complex phrases with ease. Some of them, like “the second wave,” I’d heard before even if I didn’t know what they meant; others, like “the hegemonic masculinity,” I couldn’t get my tongue around let alone my mind. I’d taken several sips of the grainy, acrid fluid before I understood that they were talking about feminism. I stared at them as if they were behind glass. I’d never heard anyone use the word “feminism” as anything but a reprimand. At BYU, “You sound like a feminist” signaled the end of the argument. It also signaled that I had lost. I left the café and went to the library. After five minutes online and a few trips to the stacks, I was sitting in my usual place with a large pile of books written by what I now understood to be second-wave writers—Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir. I slammed them shut. I returned to the Internet and then to the shelves, where I exchanged the books of the second wave for those that preceded the first—Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill. I read through the afternoon and into the evening, developing for the first time a vocabulary for the uneasiness I’d felt since childhood. From the moment I had first understood that my brother Richard was a boy and I was a girl, I had wanted to exchange his future for mine. My future was motherhood; his, fatherhood. They sounded similar but they were not. To be one was to be a decider. To preside. To call the family to order. To be the other was to be among those called. I knew my yearning was unnatural. This knowledge, like so much of my self-knowledge, had come to me in the voice of people I knew, people I loved. All through the years that voice had been with me, whispering, wondering, worrying. That I was not right. That my dreams were perversions. That voice had many timbres, many tones. Sometimes it was my father’s voice; more often it was my own. I carried the books to my room and read through the night. I loved the fiery pages of Mary Wollstonecraft, but there was a single line written by John Stuart Mill that, when I read it, moved the world: “It is a subject on which nothing final can be known.” The subject Mill had in mind was the nature of women. Mill claimed that women have been coaxed, cajoled, shoved and squashed into a series of feminine contortions for so many centuries, that it is now quite impossible to define their natural abilities or aspirations. Blood rushed to my brain; I felt…”
And onward she goes, emboldened in her pursuit of knowledge.
Then she was able to get into Harvard. Her gritty determination to succeed in acquiring a doctorate is a force to be reckoned with.
“I began to read—Hume, Rousseau, Smith, Godwin, Wollstonecraft and Mill. I lost myself in the world they had lived in, the problems they had tried to solve. I became obsessed with their ideas about the family—with how a person ought to weigh their special obligations to kin against their obligations to society as a whole. Then I began to write, weaving the strands I’d found in Hume’s Principles of Morals with filaments from Mill’s The Subjection of Women. It was good work, I knew it even as I wrote it, and when I’d finished I set it aside. It was the first chapter of my PhD.”
Throughout the book, you keep hoping for her to find reconciliation with her family. But that hope was not realized, and only time will tell if she ever does.
I readily confess that I found her book captivating. I’m not surprised that she was heavily recommended by Oprah, Bill Gates, and Michelle Obama. Since her book lacked pictures, I admit I was seized with a curiosity to look her up online and put a image to her face. I came across an interview she had with Ellen Degeneres. Her eloquence and poise made for an impactful talk show segment. It hearkened home for me the desperate fact that we need more authors and book featured on talk shows, so we as a culture can help better navigate the narratives that drive our society.
I look forward to seeing what she creates next in the literary world.