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Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity Paperback – October 1, 2013
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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.” (Julie Myerson The New York Times Book Review)
“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.” (Kate Tuttle The Boston Globe)
“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.” (Dwight Garner The New York Times)
“A brave, beautiful book that will expand your humanity.” (Anne Leslie PEOPLE)
“[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.” (Carmela Ciuraru USA Today)
“Deeply moving…” (Lisa Zeidner The Washington Post)
“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.” (Brook Wilensky-Lanford The San Francisco Cronicle)
“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.” (Lev Grossman TIME)
“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.” (Tina Calabro Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
“A careful, subtle, and surprising book.” (Nathan Heller The New Yorker)
About the Author
Andrew Solomon is a professor of psychology at Columbia University, president of PEN American Center, and a regular contributor to The New Yorker, NPR, and The New York Times Magazine. A lecturer and activist, he is the author of Far and Away: Essays from the Brink of Change: Seven Continents, Twenty-Five Years; the National Book Critics Circle Award-winner Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, which has won thirty additional national awards; and The Noonday Demon; An Atlas of Depression, which won the 2001 National Book Award, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and has been published in twenty-four languages. He has also written a novel, A Stone Boat, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times First Fiction Award and The Irony Tower: Soviet Artists in a Time of Glasnost. His TED talks have been viewed over ten million times. He lives in New York and London and is a dual national. For more information, visit the author’s website at AndrewSolomon.com.
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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.
As an aside, this is a thick book but it does not need to be read cover to cover. Read the first chapter (Son) and then choose the chapter that speaks most to you. Then you can go back later and read other chapters.
I dare to add my personal thoughts with those of the Pulitzer and Nobel prizewinners on the book's jacket because Solomon's work is, without a doubt, the most fascinating treatise about people that I have ever read. He has documented these stories by interviewing families who cope with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. Some were very difficult to read about, like the use of rape as a weapon of war and its effect on children or living the realities of transgender identity. While any of these characteristics are potentially isolating, the experience of difference within these families is universal in their struggles with compassion and with the triumphs of love that Solomon wonderfully documents in every chapter. The range of conditions that we deal with as humans is staggering, like the demands of gifted children being as consuming as for those with severe disabilities. His thoughts are beyond intriguing and he has made this world more understandable to me.
Solomon's startling proposition is that our diversity is what unites us. His perspectives are global, his words are rich and heady and his passion should also give you some wonderful insights about the world around us and much food for thought about ourselves, our families and just how lucky we are to be living today. First listen to his TED Talk from last April entitled 'Love, no matter what' and then check out his webpage for this book [www dot farfromthetree dot com] on your computer. It will offer you an assortment of quotes and video clips both from Solomon and from people who he writes about that address the dozen chapters and the themes of virtually every part of the book. It is a wonderful overview of its contents about life, love and the 'wisdom of Solomon' that flavors this work. This is riveting reading.
Bob Magnant is a novelist who writes about technology, public policy, globalization, Internet security and the US in the Middle East.