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Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon

Far From the Tree (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Andrew Solomon

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5331518,919 (4.52)25
Title:Far From the Tree
Authors:Andrew Solomon
Info:Scribner (2012), Kindle Edition, 702 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:social psychology, abnormal psychology

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Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon (2012)



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Very thought provoking book. Lots of questions are raised that are not possible to answer in any general way. Each case has to be considered individually. It's about horizontal culture as opposed to vertical, genetics vs environment. Raises questions as to whether women would abort if they knew the child had Down's syndrome, or autism, or deafness. Difficult questions with no "right" answer. I'm loving it! ( )
  padmacatell | Sep 8, 2014 |
excellent!! ( )
  Julia.Reeb | Jul 23, 2014 |
One of the best books I've read in years. Solomon writes beautifully about horizontal and vertical identities--horizontal is what we get from peer groups and socially determined (e.g. deafness, autism, learning disabilities, etc. Vertical identity are determined genetically--race, height, etc. His writing is eloquent and focuses on the paradox of life and living it... All educators should read this book. ( )
  jsigford | Jul 7, 2014 |
Dit boek heb ik nog lang niet uit! Maar nu toch al op LT; ik ga het kopen want het is zo'n vol en interessant boek over relaties tussen ouders en kinderen, handicaps (en wanneer ben je gehandicapt?), hoe reageert de omgeving. Ik heb nu al veel geleerd en pas een paar hoofdstukken gelezen. Het zet mij aan het denken, geeft een historisch overzicht. Buitengewoon, één van de toppers van de laatste tijd. ( )
  elsmvst | Apr 8, 2014 |
The final lines of Solomon’s beautifully-written narrative about families who come to love the exceptional children they didn’t know they wanted, perfectly describes the feelings and moral quandaries I encountered throughout its 702 pages: “Sometimes I had thought the heroic parents in this book were fools, enslaving themselves to a life’s journey with their alien children, trying to breed identity out of misery. I was startled to learn that my research had built me a plank, and that I was ready to join them on their ship.”

In the final chapter, the author becomes a father, creating a family that, he notes, would not have existed 50 years ago. In part because it was considered morally wrong, and also in part because of science. Without scientific advancements and societal changes many of the families Solomon writes about wouldn’t exist. But despite many of the advances that have made these exceptional families possible, these families face many hurdles that range from receiving little support for their autistic child to living with the stigma of raising a child conceived in rape.

This plank that the author writes was built for him from his research also becomes a plank for the reader. As I read about parents who came to accept that their children weren’t the ones they imagined themselves having but made it their life’s mission to help these children become the best people they could be, I felt it wrong to wish for a child that wasn’t deaf or autistic or a prodigy. When you read these families’ stories of extreme love and hardship so closely intertwined that the joys and sorrows of parenting are felt so much more intensely, you can’t help but feel that you should be ready to join that ship.

The wide conception of parenting is that parents are responsible for raising children who can one day live independently, contribute to society, and produce children of their own. But parents of children who will never be able to meet these expectations quickly learn to redefine success, focusing on an identity that is more closely an expression of who their children are.

In each chapter, Solomon focuses on a different horizontal identity. He defines horizontal identities as independently divergent; they are inherent or acquired traits that are foreign to a child’s progenitors. These identities are anchored between the chapters titled “Son” and “Father.” In these two chapters, the author writes about himself and the connection he feels with these families’ struggles, being a gay man who suffers from serious clinical depression. Solomon begins the book with the statement, “There is no such thing as reproduction.” While two people who decide to have a baby believe they are “braiding themselves together,” they are actually just producing a “stranger,” and the more “alien” the stranger, the harder it is to accept him. The conception that by having a baby we will live on forever is a comforting prospect for parents-to-be, but all it really does is formulate fantasies that will most likely be shattered.

In “Father,” Solomon connects parenthood to loss because the act of having a child means that a great deal for the parents is lost, mainly the fantasies they might have had for their child. After fathering a son to raise with his partner, Solomon expresses that he felt sorry for what is always lost when a gay couple decides to have children: “I would never see what might come of mixing John’s genes with my own.” Despite believing in “production” as opposed to “reproduction,” the author couldn’t help feeling that two people who love each other should have equal claim to their child.

The ten horizontal identities described in the book make it clear that right and wrong are categories that are just as limiting as pro-choice and pro-life, Liberal and Conservative. The way these parents love their children is situational, because experience is what dictates how they should raise them. Should parents of severely deaf children choose to have them get Cochlear implants or learn to speak instead of learning to sign? Would parents be better off aborting a pregnancy if prenatal diagnosis revealed the child had dwarfism or Down syndrome? How should a family cope with a child who has become a criminal or is transgender? Most of these families stated that they wouldn’t want their children to be any other way, and if they did it was mainly because it would mean an easier life. But in the end, they were happy to have had choices, however limited. ( )
1 vote tinkettleinn | Mar 15, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
In Far from the Tree, he [Andrew Solomon] explores the experience of parents having offspring who in one way or another present them with an unexpected set of problems--either neuropsychological impairments from birth or behavioral problems as they grow. This theme drew Mr. Solomon's attention because he is ever aware of how his emergent homosexuality during adolescence represented a serious challenge to his parents--a challenge that he believes they didn't handle well. . . . He explicitly relates their [the parents he interviews] responses to what he remembers his parents doing and saying to him when they became aware of his homosexual predilections. This feature gives the book both a personal edge and a less than subtle political subtext. In the end, Far From the Tree is an exercise in identity politics. . . . Despite offering touching stories of parents who face challenges they didn't expect--and deal with them nobly--Far From the Tree ignores, to its detriment, some of the most natural and telling aspects of human beings as they relate to each other across the generations.
added by sgump | editWall Street Journal, Paul McHugh (Dec 18, 2012)
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. "Far From the Tree" is the product of a decade of research and interviews with 300 families. For each horizontal identity under discussion, Solomon moves easily from often-harrowing individual stories, told largely in the subjects' own words, to broader observations informed by his theoretical research, and arrives at a surprising level of synthesis.
Narrating the stories of hundreds of families in which children and their parents must struggle with identity — whether due to disability or difference of other kinds — Solomon’s project boils down to this: with stories come understanding, empathy, and respect.
added by melmore | editBoston Globe, Kate Tuttle (Nov 23, 2012)
“Far From the Tree” doesn’t purport to be an original work of theoretical research on family dynamics. It’s more of a hybrid series of thematically linked oral histories, the majority of which are deeply moving about the strength of parents who display heroic energy and creativity.
added by melmore | editWashington Post, Lisa Zeidner (Nov 21, 2012)
...suffice it to say that you end this journey through difference and diversity with an even stronger conviction that life is endlessly, heart-stoppingly, fragile and unknowable.

And yet. Spending time with the parents of a child so disabled he has to be lifted from his bed with a pulley, Solomon notes that to be in the room with them and their son “is to witness a shimmering humanity.” It’s a phrase that should be smoke-trailed across the sky, or at the very least stuck on the family fridge. It’s also a very accurate description of what he’s achieved in this wise and beautiful book.
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The imperfect is our paradise. /
Note that, in this bitterness, delight, /
Since the imperfect is so hot in us, /
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.
--Wallace Stevens, "The Poem of Our Climate"
for John, for the sake of whose difference I would gladly give up all the sameness in the world
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There is no such thing as reproduction.
Having exceptional children exaggerates parental tendencies: those who would be bad parents become awful parents, but those who would be good parents become extraordinary.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0743236718, Hardcover)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:06:27 -0400)

Solomon tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so.

(summary from another edition)

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