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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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6071816,073 (4.48)39
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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Summary: Solomon's thesis is that there are horizontal and vertical identities. Vertical identities are those that generally don't change from parent to child - like race, religion, and ethnicity. Parents as well as outsiders are generally comfortable with children staying within these vertical boundaries. But when children exit these boundaries, everybody becomes a little uncomfy. Horizontal identities is one way to cross out of the vertical boundary. A horizontal identity is one in which the child conforms to a cultural identity which differs from that of the parent - such as mental illness, deafness, LGBTQ, Transexuality, Autism, Down Sydrome, etc. Several of these, such as LGBTQ and deafness have strongly developed communities of people with the related identities. Often, the parents have to learn to become a member-from-the-outside of these communities in order to support their children.

Review: Amazing book. There were some parts that were difficult to read - such as the ones about children of rape victims and crime - but those sections were also very poignant. Solomon did a fantastic job of covering a large variety of topics while keeping to the same thesis, and not sounding repetitive. It's possible the book could have been shortened a bit if there were fewer individual interviews, but I liked having so many examples. It shows that no two individuals have the same story. One criticism I have (especially of dwarfism, deafness, and Autism) the people interviewed were more often than not exceptional members of the community who had resources (great intelligence/resourcefulness, money, education) than the average person would have. So stories in those sections seemed a bit skewed. ( )
  The_Hibernator | Feb 21, 2015 |
Pretty much just read the anecdotes..... ( )
  jrsearcher | Feb 12, 2015 |
I found this book absolutely fascinating. So much so, in fact, that I bought a paperback print copy to keep in my library (I listened to the 40 hour audible book) to be used as a reference book.

Towards the end of the book, Solomon uses the following language to describe what I found to be the thesis of the book: "That presumptive caul of negativity [that homosexuality--or any other culturally perceived barrier--is a barrier to parental acceptance and unconditional love] is onerous. Some people trapped by the belief that love comes in finite quantities, and that our kind of love [gay couples' love] exhausts the supply upon which they need to draw. I do not accept competitive models of love, only additive ones" (pp 699-700).

This book exposes a myth that the parents of children with physical, mental, emotional, and cultural differences must thereby be considered "saints" rather that simply parents in love with their children. Over and over, Solomon interviews parents and children who say they would not change who they are if they could and who love the members of their families because of (not in spite of) who they are.

The audio book is read by the author, which I found interesting. His pronunciation of certain words was quite different! But just as listening to a singer-songwriter perform their own works, hearing Solomon place the emphasis where, as author, it was written to be made the listening all the more enjoyable.

It is worth the read...or listening! ( )
1 vote kaulsu | Oct 13, 2014 |
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! ( )
  padmajoy | Sep 8, 2014 |
excellent!! ( )
  Julia.Reeb | Jul 23, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (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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