Educated by Tara Westover

“My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.”

Better late than never right? Thanks to all of my followers who have been patient with me and my posts while I grieve. I’ve still got a long way to go but it feels good to start to resume some of my normal routines and hobbies.

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 334 pages.
Read from September 22, 2019 to September 27, 2019.

There are many memoirs out there that are written by pretentious and self-important people that make for dull reads, which is generally why I don’t read too many. Then there are memoirs that detail the life of a seemingly ordinary person that has led the most remarkable life and has overcome challenges that many of us can’t even envision. This is one of those memoirs.

Tara grew up in a strict Mormon family plagued by fanatical religion, paranoia, and unaddressed mental health issues in rural Idaho. Her father believed that the government couldn’t be relied on for anything including medical care and education and was constantly preparing for the end of days. Tara’s mother was thrown into midwifery to help the family get by and relied strictly on herbs and essential oils to treat all medical ailments or injuries. Tara has six siblings most of which, like herself, have been unaware of what the outside world could teach them or what was available to them out of the reach of their father’s influence. Tara discusses the wildly unsafe work her father subjected her and siblings to in the junkyard as well as horrific injuries that some of the family members sustained during this work or travel.  Tara details the mental and physical abuse imbibed on her by her older brother Shawn and how her family allowed it to continue. How Tara and a few of her siblings managed to lift themselves out of this destructive family is nothing short of remarkable. Tara attended school for the first time at the age of seventeen. This book chronicles her choices, struggles, failures, and successes in learning to become her own person while stepping away, yet still loving her dysfunctional family.

“You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye to them,” she says now. “You can miss a person every day, and still be glad that they are no longer in your life.”

Despite being subjected to years of gaslighting, brainwashing, and emotional abuse, Tara managed to get a PhD and still find peace with her family and her upbringing. Despite internalising much of the abuse, Tara came to realise that there were small blessings in her upbringing as it gave her a unique hunger to excel in her education that many of her peers didn’t have. Tara slowly learned to find confidence in her own abilities and intelligence in which she then learned that she could decide how to see the world for herself.

Tara’s writing is honest and mindful as she tries to be as accurate to her memories and as well as that of her family’s recollections of pinnacle events in their lives. She walks you through her thought process at the time by including diary entries and then reflects on them. There are moments in this memoir that will literally make your jaw drop. I know for me, without spoiling anything, it was the medical trauma her father and brother survived. I mean, I think I might put all my faith in God too if I overcame such trauma without medical intervention. Tara’s writing is concise, engaging, neutral, yet welcoming. You sort of feel like you’re a close of friend of Tara’s and once in a while over coffee, she details her past life.

If you’re not into memoirs, this one might convert you as it’s worthy of all the hype it’s received. I didn’t want to put this book down. This book would appeal to just about anyone and would make an excellent book club selection.

Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard

“I just decided to try my best to ignore the voices that told me I was a failure.”

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 272 pages.
Read from August 14, 2019 to August 25, 2019.

I adore books about running and racing. I also love true-story books involving animals. This book brought those two worlds together for me. After having this book on my TBR list for a while after a friend’s recommendation, I spotted a paperback copy of this book while I was slightly drunk at an airport. Drink having contributed my book-buying issue, I compulsively purchase this book. However, I did share it with a family member afterwards so it was worth it.

Dion Leonard is an accidental elite runner. He doesn’t run because he likes it but because he wants to challenge himself and be competitive. It all started after he made a bet with his friend that he would beat him in a half marathon, despite having never done one or trained for one. After successfully beating his poor friend (honestly, that would piss me off so much) he decided to keep running and set his sights on some of the most competitive and challenging marathons and ultras in the world. Dion decides that he wants to tackled a 155-mile race through the Gobi desert in China. It’s during this race that he meets a durable, resilient, and tiny dog that follows him for a whole 77-miles of the race. This little dog taught Dion some lessons about running that made his journey more about just trying to finish first. After such a journey, Dion knew that this dog, who he named Gobi, had to come home with him. However, things don’t go to plan and Dion struggles to get Gobi back home with him.

As a runner, I really enjoyed reading about the specifics of Dion’s race, though I’d be lying if wasn’t in envy of his speed in doing a sport he didn’t particularly enjoy that much outside of the competition and winning. Thankfully Gobi managed to teach Dion a thing or two about that. It was interesting what Dion mentioned about Tommy Chen during the race. I feel like we only got a censored or partial part of that story.

Dion had to manage some steep hurdles in getting Gobi home, especially trying to manage the Chinese media which I’m sure had its own unique challenges. I wondered if there were aspects and experiences that Dion wanted to be a bit more honest about but felt he couldn’t in the book in case there was some sort of backlash.

I think Dion is likely a better runner than a writer as there were aspects of this book that felt a bit unnecessary, such as the back story on his family.  This story probably could have been a short novella or a feature-length magazine article instead of a full book and I felt the excitement waivered shortly after the race was finished. The book and the story are slightly self-serving in the way Dion discusses his running and the media hype that came with Gobi, but the story of the two of them is sincere so it was wonderful to know that everything all worked out in the end for them both.

For those that don’t have a large interest in anything running related, the first part of this book might be a bit dull for you but after that, the story revolves fully around trying to get Gobi.  Overall, a nice easy read for any dog-lover or runner.

Ghetto at the Center of the World by Gordon Mathews

Likely the most fascinating place in Hong Kong with some of the best South Asian food in the city. Chungking Mansions is a curiosity that is not to be missed.

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 256 pages.
Read from June 25, 2019 to July 3, 2019.

I’ve called Hong Kong home for a few years now and have come to love it for all of its unique flaws and qualities. Hong Kong is a busy city but outside of its city walls are beautiful running trails, beaches, and hikes. There is something for everyone in this diverse city no matter what kind of person you are. As an expat, Chungking Mansions is a fascinating place that needs to be visited at least once, but for locals, it is generally a place to be avoided. The stories of crime and gang activity, along with the lack of familiar local faces, usually are enough to keep many locals away. However, this impression of Chungking Mansion isn’t its whole story.

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Grey facade – Photo by Gerald Figal on Flickr

Gordon Mathews is a university professor in Hong Kong and spent years living in and studying the people and it’s unique economy and isolated globalization. Chungking Mansion is located in the bustling and wealthy Tsim Sha Tsui area of Hong Kong on the Kowloon side. It’s a popular district for shopping and has lots of tourists from mainland China and elsewhere from around the globe. Yet inside Chungking mansions is like entering a different world. Just outside of the building, you’ll find it brimming with South Asians, who, if you’re white, will try and sell you knock-off watches, handbags, or tailoring services. Inside the building is old and run down compared to the shiny shopping area it’s surrounded by. Inside you’ll find cheap rooms for rent, refugees, illegal workers, traders, sex workers, drug addicts, and small businesses from all around the globe. African traders come to find cheap cellphones to bring back to their countries. South Asians come, often illegally, to try and improve the quality of their lives as well as their families. Many refugees come and get trapped in the system of long waits within Hong Kong and are unable to work legally too. Despite the illegality of most of what goes on in the building, a blind eye is often turned by police. Without the illegality of workers and many other trades, Chungking Mansions would not exist. The diversity of the building makes for some of the most eclectic and delicious food in Hong Kong and for rock-bottom prices. It also makes for a unique area of globalization that isn’t really seen anywhere else in the world.

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Image from Asia Times

I’ve actually had the pleasure of dining in Chungking Mansions with a group of refugees and have nothing but great things to say about the place despite its seedy reputation. I would go back in there in heartbeat for the great food, company, and people watching. That isn’t to say that sketchy things don’t happen at Chungking but in general, it’s a decent place to grab a good bite to eat provided you don’t mind how run down some of the establishments are.

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Image from Wikimedia

This book is a perfect insight into Chungking Mansions as its clear that the professor himself has become an established name inside the building and is someone that everyone seems to be comfortable talking with. He seems to have a clear understanding of Chungking Mansions and the people that live there. The novel felt a bit like something I would read in a university class but that’s not surprising since I’m sure that was one of the reasons it was written. Mathew’s writing is as informative as it is fascinating and if you’re in Hong Kong and have ever wanted to visit or know more about Chungking Mansions I would highly recommend this book.