From the National Book Award–winning author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression comes a monumental new work, a decade in the writing, about family. In Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so.
Solomon’s startling proposition is that diversity is what unites us all. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, the experience of difference within families is universal, as are the triumphs of love Solomon documents in every chapter.
All parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent parents should accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves. Drawing on forty thousand pages of interview transcripts with more than three hundred families, Solomon mines the eloquence of ordinary people facing extreme challenges. Whether considering prenatal screening for genetic disorders, cochlear implants for the deaf, or gender reassignment surgery for transgender people, Solomon narrates a universal struggle toward compassion. Many families grow closer through caring for a challenging child; most discover supportive communities of others similarly affected; some are inspired to become advocates and activists, celebrating the very conditions they once feared. Woven into their courageous and affirming stories is Solomon’s journey to accepting his own identity, which culminated in his midlife decision, influenced by this research, to become a parent.
Elegantly reported by a spectacularly original thinker, Far from the Tree explores themes of generosity, acceptance, and tolerance—all rooted in the insight that love can transcend every prejudice. This crucial and revelatory book expands our definition of what it is to be human.
A profoundly moving new work of research and narrative by National Book Award winner Solomon (The Noonday Demon) explores the ways that parents of marginalized children being gay, dwarf, severely disabled, deaf, autistic, schizophrenic, the product of rape, or given to criminal tendencies or prodigious musical talent, to name a few he chose have been transformed and largely enriched by caring for their high-needs children. These children are marginalized by society, classified traditionally as ill and abnormal, and shunned; in the cases of those who are deaf or homosexual, they were forced to conform to mainstream strictures. A seasoned journalist and LGBT activist, Solomon relies on anecdotes to convey the herculean tasks facing parents and caregivers of special-needs children because "stories acknowledge chaos," and he takes great pains to probe the dark side of parental despair and anger, as well as ennobling efforts of resilience and strength. Sifting through arguments about nature versus nurture, Solomon finds some startling moments of discovery, for example, among Deaf activists who ferociously cling to their marginality, parents of children with Down syndrome who express their children's infinite "mystery and beauty," and the truculent compassion of Dylan Klebold's parents, 10 years after the Columbine High School shootings. Solomon's own trials of feeling marginalized as gay, dyslexic, and depressive, while still yearning to be a father, frame these affectingly rendered real tales about bravely playing the cards one's dealt.
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I see children and their parents nearly daily. Most of the children have had surgery for congenital heart disease. Many of them have developmental delays, either due to direct genetic association with the heart disease, for instance, Down syndrome, or due to the hemodynamic problems their body has undergone. By reading the book, I hoped to understand how these parents thought and coped. Instead, I found ridiculous assertions, such as repairing a baby with cleft and lip implied the family did not accept the baby as she was, and somehow were covertly saying they wished this child had not been born.
This author spends page after page whining about not being accepted because he was gay, Jewish, dyslexic, and depressed. Hr himself sees these as abnormal, yet chastises parents who seek legitimate therapies for their children with disabilities.
One of the worst statements in the book was that parents who become activists are doing so simply to get out of the house away from their child.
This is a truly awful, insulting, and narcissist book. I recommend it to no one.
Written with Care
I almost opted out of reading this book because of a negative review here. I am so glad I did not. The book is written honestly, from the author who addresses his life experiences and how these experiences have effect his different perceptions on himself and others in his immediate world. It is my opinion that it is flawed to refer as the writing as whiny; again, it feels most honest. This is not an academically written work, therefore allowing for the intimacy the writer established with those he interviewed to be exposed and, thankfully, shared. I see into lives that greatness and sadness find consistently moments of great equilibrium. This book should be read with care for it was written with care.
This book is a cross between sociological analysis and the story of the author's own self-discovery. There were many poignant stories expressing the depths of parental love and acceptance in extremely challenging situations. The research is a love story to human diversity and will bring the reader to a place of more compassion for and acceptance of those who are different.
Please do not let the negative review discourage you. It is not accurate. The cleft-palate story is actually an extreme example of the opposite of what the reviewer said-- the parents were so accepting of their child's differences (which were much more vast and dehabilitating than simply a cleft palate) that they neglected to get her proper diagnostic care that could have saved her life. The author recognizes the fault in this instance.
The author also analyzes both sides of the issues for treatment of the various conditions in the book, recognizing that many can improve quality of life while others are more controversial due to cultural beliefs or medical risks. He really does not draw definitive conclusions one way or the other regarding the ethics of these interventions, concluding more that the choices are personal and vary case by case. The treatments are often extreme-- cochlear implants, limb-lengthening, etc. that are not always medically necessary and that are obviously controversial.