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Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identityby Andrew Solomon
Synopses & Reviews
From the National Book Award-winning author of the “brave…deeply humane…open-minded, critically informed, and poetic” (The New York Times) The Noonday Demon, comes a book about the consequences of extreme personal and cultural differences between parents and children.
As a gay child of straight parents, Andrew Solomon was born with a condition that was considered an illness, but it became a cornerstone of his identity. While reporting on the explosion of Deaf pride in the 1990s, he began to consider illness and identity as a continuum with shifting boundaries. Spurred by the disability-rights movement and empowered by the Internet, communities with such “horizontal identities” are challenging expectations and norms.
Their stories begin in families coping with extreme difference: dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, multiple severe disabilities, or prodigious genius; children conceived in rape, or who identify as transgender; children who develop schizophrenia or commit serious crimes. The adage asserts that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but in Solomon’s explorations, some apples fall on the other side of the world.
For ten years, interviewing more than 250 families, Solomon has observed not just how some families learn to deal with exceptional children, but also how they find profound meaning in doing so. An utterly original thinker, Solomon mines the eloquence of ordinary people who have somehow summoned hope and courage in the face of heartbreaking prejudice and almost unimaginable difficulty.
Far from the Tree is a masterpiece that will rattle our prejudices, question our policies, and inspire our understanding of the relationship between illness and identity. Above all, it will renew and deepen our gratitude for the herculean reach of parental love.
"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. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"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
"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
"An informative and moving book that raises profound issues regarding the nature of love, the value of human life, and the future of humanity." Kirkus, starred review
"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
"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 unrivaled 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
About the Author
Andrew Solomon is the author of The Irony Tower: Soviet Artists in a Time of Glasnost, A Stone Boat, and The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, winner of fourteen national awards, including the 2001 National Book Award, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and a New York Times bestseller, now published in twenty-two languages. He lives in New York and London with his husband and children.
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