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Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity Hardcover – November 13, 2012
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2012: Anyone who’s ever said (or heard or thought) the adage “chip off the old block” might burrow into Andrew Solomon’s tome about the ways in which children are different from their parents--and what such differences do to our conventional ideas about family. Ruminative, personal, and reportorial all at once, Solomon--who won a National Book Award for his treatise on depression, The Noonday Demon--begins by describing his own experience as the gay son of heterosexual parents, then goes on to investigate the worlds of deaf children of hearing parents, dwarves born into “normal” families, and so on. His observations and conclusions are complex and not easily summarized, with one exception: The chapter on children of law-abiding parents who become criminals. Solomon rightly points out that this is a very different situation indeed: “to be or produce a schizophrenic...is generally deemed a misfortune,” he writes. “To...produce a criminal is often deemed a failure.” Still, parents must cope with or not, accept or not, the deeds or behaviors or syndromes of their offspring. How they do or do not do that makes for fascinating and disturbing reading. --Sara Nelson
*Starred Review* Solomon, who won the National Book Award for The Noonday Demon (2001), tackles daunting questions involving nature versus nurture, illness versus identity, and how they all affect parenting in his exhaustive but not exhausting exploration of what happens when children bear little resemblance to their parents. He begins by challenging the very concept of human reproduction. We do not reproduce, he asserts, spawning clones. We produce originals. And if we’re really lucky, our offspring will be enough like us or our immediate forebears that we can easily love, nurture, understand, and respect them. But it’s a crapshoot. More often than not, little junior will be born with a long-dormant recessive gene, or she may emerge from the womb with her very own, brand-new identifier—say, deafness, physical deformity, or homosexuality. Years of interviews with families and their unique children culminate in this compassionate compendium. Solomon focuses on the creative and often desperate ways in which families manage to tear down prejudices and preconceived fears and reassemble their lives around the life of a child who alters their view of the world. Most succeed. Some don’t. But 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. --Donna Chavez
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That chapter was so good, I moved to the crime chapter and stayed up way too late because I could not put it down. Thank you, Mr. Solomon for pointing out the absurdities in our justice system when it comes to dealing with juvenile crime. (And as for the reviewer who questioned including crime at all, this book focuses on any possible way that a child can turn out different than their parents expected, and being guilty of a crime definitely seems appropriate to me.) I learned a lot from this chapter, and was particularly fascinated by the Klebolds' story. Once again, Soloman wrote with sensitivity about a very difficult and controversial topic.
From there I read the chapter on dwarfism, and then finally turned to the first pages of the book and started reading the beginning! I wanted to learn about how families deal with a diagnosis of autism; instead I learned about how families deal with all kinds of unexpected outcomes, how resilient parents can be when faced with hardships, and how connected are the identities of parents and their children. As a parent, I understand the constant struggle to balance who we want our children to be and who they actually are. "There is no such thing as reproduction" may be my new mantra.
One more thing: in 700 pages (okay, I admit, I didn't read the Acknowledgments) I never found an example of "martyrdom" that one reviewer complained about. The book relates honest responses from parents in the trenches. Parenting isn't always fun, even for parents of kids who have no extra challenges. But Far From the Tree isn't a chronicle of long-suffering devastated parents; there are plenty of positive, hopeful, make-the-best-of-it moments as well.
It's a fascinating book for anyone interested in parenting, psychology, or the history of disability. Highly recommended.
I'm in kind of a bad mood this morning. I hate to write negative reviews and almost never do.
I hate very much the possibility of hurting someone's feelings who worked so hard
to enlighten humanity. So, to continue: I adore this author. Update 2-3-17: There are other new treatments for depresion now. Today I just learned of a more non-invasive procedure for those ECT did not help. More later:)
Except on schizophrenia which Solomon calls the most "intractable" and untreatable illness.
While much of his brain research is quite up to date- nevertheless, there's still so much we don't know.
E.g, we think we know what SSRI's and Dopamine inhibitors do but the whole model of why
they(sometimes but not often enough) work may not be right.
What I think Solomon misses here is that it is the UNITED STATES approved medications that are intractable and unusable. Getting the really good antipsychotic/stabilizer/antidepressant, Amisulpride,
from France or London can be a drag and most shrinks in Massachusetts won't even prescribe it.
Also brain research is still going on and there may be a good cure for schizophrenia in ten years
based on gene therapy. I so wanted to write him of this pill after Noonday Demon as a cure for himself,
but there was just so much I had to say about his book, most of it positive, that I never got around to it.
Write what you know, Andrew. Write what you know.
The guy who writes so lovingly of his(Noonday Demon) depression, for which there already exists
a diagnosis through MRI, and his son's Autism- takes a very cold and under-researched eye to schizophrenia.
He mentions few or none of the success stories.
It's wonderful to be so confessional and I thank him for that but there's no need to take swipes at
the children dealing with something more difficult. It seems that there always has to be a pariah
even for those who profess to like everyone. A also there is a richness to schizophrenia
(even in catatonia) that we can be more curious about. Carl Jung found it at least tractable.
After reading Far from the Tree I'm thinking, Why even deal with schizophrenia?
If you see those genes in your baby's sonogram, throw it out with the bath water.