For anyone who hasn’t heard about Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree, this book is much more than a tome (900+ pages) about parents and special-needs kids. Solomon has written a tour-de-force discussion on difference and identity worthy of anyone’s attentions, especially those of us who do not conform to the tyranny of normativity. Julie Myerson wrote a wonderful piece on the book in a recent New York Times Book Review. While the later chapters in Far From the Tree each could be their own separate books about specific conditions of being, the first 200 pages are pure gold. As Myerson begins her review,
“How does it feel to be the mother of a teenage dwarf who’s desperate to start dating? What if you love the daughter you conceived when you were raped but can’t bear to be touched by her? And, as the father of a happy, yet profoundly deaf son who’s forgotten how it feels to hear, how do you deal with your memories of the times you played music together?
“’Parenting is no sport for perfectionists,’ Andrew Solomon rather gloriously understates toward the end of ‘Far From the Tree,’ a generous, humane and — in complex and unexpected ways — compassionate book about what it means to be a parent. A lecturer in psychiatry at Cornell and the author of ‘The Noonday Demon,’ a National Book Award-winning memoir about his journey through depression, Solomon spent 10 years interviewing more than 300 families with ‘exceptional” children. That is, children with “horizontal identities,’ a term he uses to encompass all the “recessive genes, random mutations, prenatal influences or values and preferences that a child does not share with his progenitors.’
“He developed what seem to be genuine relationships (entailing multiple visits, unsparing communication and significant follow-up over a number of years) with families of individuals affected by a spectrum of cognitive, physical or psychological differences: “They are deaf or dwarfs; they have Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia or multiple severe disabilities; they are prodigies; they are people conceived in rape or who commit crimes; they are transgender.” His interviews yielded nearly 40,000 transcript pages and his “anti-Tolstoyan” conclusion that “the unhappy families who reject their variant children have much in common, while the happy ones who strive to accept them are happy in a multitude of ways.”
“Bookending this immense core of material are intimate accounts of Solomon’s own experiences: first, as the son of parents who lovingly helped him overcome his dyslexia, but struggled (as he did) with the idea that he was gay, his own ‘horizontal identity’; and then finally, and very movingly, as an awkward and awed new father himself.
“This is a passionate and affecting work that will shake up your preconceptions and leave you in a better place. It’s a book everyone should read and, although everyone won’t (at a hefty 700 pages of text, with more than 100 pages of notes, it’s no pocket guide), there’s no one who wouldn’t be a more imaginative and understanding parent — or human being — for having done so.
For more, we recommend: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/books/review/far-from-the-tree-by-andrew-solomon.html?pagewanted=all