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Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon
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Far From the Tree (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Andrew Solomon

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7882811,673 (4.43)47
Member:cmartlib
Title:Far From the Tree
Authors:Andrew Solomon
Info:Scribner (2012), Kindle Edition, 702 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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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Sorry - the folks who need to read this won't - it's too intimidating. And I don't need to. After reading the blurb, some reviews, the first few pages, and the last few paragraphs, I can tell that it's meaningless to me. *Of course* I love all my children as individuals, no matter what challenges they face or how raising them has challenged me.
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 5, 2016 |
Far From the Tree – Andrew Solomon
5 stars

I’m convinced that this is the most important book that I will review this year. I hope I can do it justice.

That familiar old adage, ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’, turns up usually when a child demonstrates the same undesirable tendencies as the parent. Sometimes it might be used as a compliment if a child shares a notable talent with an ancestor. But what if the apple falls far away from the tree? What if the parent tree is an apple and the child is an orange? Andrew Soloman’s massive book examines ten different populations in which the child’s identity differs widely from the family. He considers the needs of the child to establish a personal, ‘horizontal’ identity associated with his difference, within the context of the ‘vertical’ identity of the family. He also considers, with great compassion, the needs of parents who raise such a child. In the first chapter, Soloman speaks of his own experience as a dyslexic, gay child of straight parents. The final chapter, Father, reflects his personal experiences in becoming a parent. The other chapters are titled: Deaf, Dwarf, Down Syndrome, Autism, Schizophrenia, Disability, Prodigies, Rape, Crime, and Transgender.

This is a heavily researched book. There are over 150 pages of footnotes and references. But if it is a textbook, it is the most readable textbook I’ve ever held in my hands. Soloman interviewed, and frequently lived with, hundreds of participants, but at no point does this book become a tabloid ‘tell-it-all’. Even in the chapters which draw primarily on his own experience, he uses each anecdote to illustrate major issues in the development of identity and the treatment of those who differ from ‘us’. Each chapter is comprehensive in providing historical context, current research and public policy issues. Where controversy exists, he has a clearly defined liberal bias, but takes pains to show all sides of an issue. Soloman’s personal comparison between dyslexia, for which intervention is desirable, and homosexuality, as an identity that he embraces, becomes a major theme for discussion throughout the book. What must the hearing parents of a deaf child consider before giving their child a cochlear implant? If your child is a dwarf, should you inflict the pain of limb lengthening surgery for her future benefit? Is genetic testing leading us to ‘laissez- faire’ eugenics? The questions are fascinating. The answers are complex.

I don’t own a copy of this book yet. I’m waiting for the paperback (or a decrease in the kindle price). I checked the book out four times from two different library systems before I was able to finish it. At nearly 1000 pages, it is not a book to read at one sitting. It is not difficult to understand. Soloman’s writing is clear and direct. I found myself rereading because I needed more time to digest the depth of his analysis. I had to resist the urge to underline sentence after sentence that expressed an important fact or a profound truth. Despite dyslexia, this man knows how to write.

“Ability is the tyranny of the majority. If most people could flap their arms and fly, the inability to do so would be a disability.”

“Loving our children is an exercise of the imagination.”

“Though many of us take pride in how different we are from our parents, we are endlessly sad at how different our children are from us”

“While accommodating people with physical disabilities must be undertaken out of moral conviction, adequately treating people with severe psychiatric illness is a win-win situation; if moral conviction fails, economic self-interest should prevail.”

“Perhaps the immutable error of parenthood is that we give our children what we wanted, whether they wanted it or not.”



There is a definite investment of time required to read this book. Certainly, if you or a family member belongs to one of the target groups, you will find something of interest in the relevant chapter. Teachers, social workers, health professionals; of course, this is an important book for anyone working in those fields. Do you vote? Are you a parent? Do you have parents? Soloman has a lot to say to all of us. He’s given me a lot to think about.



( )
  msjudy | May 30, 2016 |
Solomon explores horizontal identities (peer alliance) and how parents & children relate when there is no vertical identity (family heredity alliance). His exploration arose out of his own alienation from his parents due to sexual identity differences. ( )
  lgaikwad | May 24, 2016 |
So far, finding it fascinating, especially the section on parents of criminal children. For such parents, there is only blame and not the perhaps falsely cheerful but nonetheless non-judgmental support organizations for, say, deaf children. (Not saying there aren't controversies with parenting deaf children, especially by hearing parents. Much about this discussed in Solomon's books.)

While watching the coverage of the younger Tsarnaev's capture, couldn't help but think of the utter isolation of parents whose children commit horrendous crimes, such as the Klebolds. ( )
  seschanfield | Mar 7, 2016 |
Brilliant insight into different forms of parenting. Confronting and challenging a must read. ( )
1 vote phenske | Dec 8, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (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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Epigraph
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"
Dedication
for John, for the sake of whose difference I would gladly give up all the sameness in the world
First words
There is no such thing as reproduction.
Quotations
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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:45 -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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