Far from the Tree
Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity
By Andrew Solomon
(Scribner Book Company, Hardcover, 9780743236713, 962pp.)
Publication Date: November 13, 2012
List Price: $37.50*
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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.
Andrew Solomon's new book is about families with children who are profoundly different or likely to be stigmatized. "We all love flawed children," says Solomon, "and the general assumption that these more extreme flaws make ... children somehow unlovable â?? it wasn't true of most of my experience." More at NPR.org
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“It’s a book everyone should read and there’s no one who wouldn’t be a more imaginative and understanding parent—or human being—for having done so.”
“Solomon is a storyteller of great intimacy and ease…He approaches each family’s story thoughtfully, respectfully…Bringing together their voices, Solomon creates something of enduring warmth and beauty: a quilt, a choir.”
“Solomon’s first chapter, entitled ‘Son,’ is as masterly a piece of writing as I’ve come across all year. It combines his own story with a taut and elegant précis of this book’s arguments. It is required reading…This is a book that shoots arrow after arrow into your heart.”
“A brave, beautiful book that will expand your humanity.”
“[Far from the Tree] is a masterpiece of non-fiction, the culmination of a decade’s worth of research and writing, and it should be required reading for psychologists, teachers, and above all, parents…A bold and unambiguous call to redefine how we view difference…A stunning work of scholarship and compassion.”
“A book of extraordinary ambition…Part journalist, part psychology researcher, part sympathetic listener, Solomon’s true talent is a geographic one: he maps the strange terrain of the human struggle that is parenting.”
“Monumental…Solomon has an extraordinary gift for finding his way into the relatively hermetic communities that form around conditions…and gaining the confidence of the natives.”
“Masterfully written and brilliantly researched…Far from the Tree stands apart from the countless memoirs and manuals about special needs parenting published in the last couple of decades.”
“A careful, subtle, and surprising book.”
“Far from the Tree is fundamentally about the bonds and burdens of family, and it’s a huge valentine to those who embrace the challenge of raising children who are in some way not what they had hoped for.”
“Solomon has found remarkable fonts of love and kindness in the mothers and fathers of children afflicted with severe problems, and he captures their lives in one touching anecdote after another.”
“A raucous, joyful tribute that exalts all parents who love their alien offspring with molten force.”
“Solomon is a superb writer…[Far from the Tree] is the author’s “Song of Myself,” a book containing multitudes. It is a gorgeous, necessary, ambitious book.”
“Solomon treats his subjects with great empathy.”
“Deeply profound…[A] brilliant tome.”
“A behemoth worth every one of its 976 pages.”
“Years of interviews with families and their unique children culminate in this compassionate compendium…The truth Solomon writes about here is as poignant as it is implacable, and he leaves us with a reinvented notion of identity and individual value."
“[These] stories are entirely unpredictable and offer us the full range of human experience—not only the horror but also the astonishing beauty—and in the end a Shakespearean sense that we are such stuff as dreams are made of.”
“Profoundly moving…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.”
“An informative and moving book that raises profound issues regarding the nature of love, the value of human life, and the future of humanity.”
“In Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon reminds us that nothing is more powerful in a child’s development than the love of a parent. This remarkable new book introduces us to mothers and fathers across America—many in circumstances the rest of us can hardly imagine—who are making their children feel special, no matter what challenges come their way.”
-President Bill Clinton
"This is one of the most extraordinary books I have read in recent times—brave, compassionate and astonishingly humane. Solomon approaches one of the oldest questions—how much are we defined by nature versus nurture?—and crafts from it a gripping narrative. Through his stories, told with such masterful delicacy and lucidity, we learn how different we all are, and how achingly similar. I could not put this book down.”
-Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies
“Far-reaching, original, fascinating—Andrew Solomon's investigation of many of the most intense challenges that parenthood can bring compels us all to reexamine how we understand human difference. Perhaps the greatest gift of this monumental book, full of facts and full of feelings, is that it constantly makes one think, and think again.”
-Philip Gourevitch, author of We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families
“Solomon, a highly original student of human behavior, has written an intellectual history that lays the foundation for a 21st century Psychological Bill of Rights. In addition to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on the basis of race and religion, this Bill extends inalienable rights of psychological acceptance to people on the basis of their identity. He provides us with an unrivalled educational experience about identity groups in our society, an experience that is filled with insight, empathy and intelligence. We also discover the redefining, self-restructuring nature that caring for a child produces in parents, no matter how unusual or disabled the child is. Reading Far from the Tree is a mind-opening experience.”
-Eric Kandel, author of The Age of Insight and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
“Andrew Solomon has written a brave and ambitious work, bringing together science, culture and a powerful empathy. Solomon tells us that we have more in common with each other—even with those who seem anything but normal—than we would ever have imagined.”—
-Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink and The Tipping Point
“Far from the Tree is a landmark, revolutionary book. It frames an area of inquiry—difference between parents and children—that many of us have experienced in our own lives without ever considering it as a phenomenon. Andrew Solomon plumbs his topic thoroughly, humanely, and in a compulsively readable style that makes the book as entertaining as it is illuminating.”
-Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad