Two books, two gods, one game plan

Two different reads: Beauty in the Broken Places: A Memoir of Love, Faith and Resilience and Educated: A Memoir.

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Recently, on a long international flight, I loaded up my Kindle with new titles to check out. There were more than a few duds, but two memoirs stood out: Allison Pataki's Beauty in the Broken Places: A Memoir of Love, Faith and Resilience (Random House, 2018) and Tara Westover's Educated: A Memoir (Random House, 2018). Each depicts moving through extraordinary circumstances, one with the help of God, and the other almost in spite of it.

Tara Westover's Educated
Tara Westover's Educated

Westover was raised in a Mormon community in Utah. Despite "homeschooling" that consisted of learning how to deliver babies on her mother's reluctant midwife runs, and rustling metal scrap in the wilds of her father's junkyard, the author managed to get herself into Brigham Young University and from there go on to earn a PhD at Cambridge. There's a moment in the book where she comes to understand that seeing herself as equal to men is not (as she references) "a perversion." She writes, "I felt an animating surge of adrenaline, of possibility, of a frontier being pushed outward." Who among us that reads hasn't felt that? Yet it was even more moving to witness her capacity to report the awakening without judgement. She accomplishes all this without painting herself as a victim, which would have been so easy to do. Instead, she tells hard truths about herself and the people around her, which is why we read memoir to begin with, to frame our thoughts around the things we ourselves cannot bear to admit.

Allison Pataki's Beauty in the Broken Places
Allison Pataki's Beauty in the Broken Places

Pataki's book, on the other hand, does something else that many might say is impossible, creating a gripping narrative around a happy couple. In part, the drama comes with the territory of watching your young, fit husband slip into a coma just as you're setting off on one last adventure before the baby is due. But Pataki has a way of writing about even their early days of courtship that pulls you through the pages. God is everywhere here, too, albeit one of a different stripe. Right from the emergency landing, a loving Higher Power is invoked.

"I passed row after row of... passengers telling me... they would be praying for my husband and thinking of our family. I nodded, dazed, thinking: Yes. Please do." And then later, after pressing money into her hand meant to help defray her unexpected hotel costs, an EMT says, "We'll be praying for you." Just then, she had no idea that her husband and her life would never be the same. 

As someone who doesn't believe in deities, but does acknowledge the power of belief, I saw striking similarities in these books. Specifically, it was the way both authors responded to their situations. Both speak of gratitude. Westover asks, "How do you thank a brother who refused to let you go?" Pataki, after describing herself as a committed individualist, writes, "I was lucky to have found Dave."

And both show their humility. When Westover writes, "I knew what it was to have a misconception corrected — a misconception of such magnitude that shifting it shifted the world," she's talking about the Holocaust and the Civil Rights movement. Pataki, admitting her powerlessness, writes, "[c]ontrol was an illusion that had been shattered into a million tiny pieces the moment Dave lost consciousness on that plane."

But perhaps most significantly, each is open to seeing grace when it appears.

Westover writes, "I shed my guilt when I accepted my decision on its own terms, without endlessly prosecuting old grievances, without weighing his sins against mine." Pataki, on the other hand, when a loved one questions her faith replies, "far scarier, in my opinion, is the idea of trying to get through this life without relying on faith." 

Different as they are, both women endured hardships that are almost impossible to imagine, yet in each leaves us with a story that's a manifesto for living well.

About The Author

Lisa L. Kirchner

%{[ data-embed-type="image" data-embed-id="5a28746b3cab468d538eb081" data-embed-element="span" data-embed-size="640w" contenteditable="false" ]}%Lisa L. Kirchner is the author of the critically-acclaimed Hello American Lady Creature: What I Learned as a Woman in Qatar. Her writing has appeared in book anthologies,...
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