Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

Solomon’s startling proposition in Far from the Tree is that being exceptional is at the core of the human condition—that difference is what unites us. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, or multiple severe disabilities; with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, the experience of difference within families is universal, and Solomon documents triumphs of love over prejudice in every chapter.

All parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent should parents accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves. Drawing on ten years of research and interviews with more than three hundred families, Solomon mines the eloquence of ordinary people facing extreme challenges.

Elegantly reported by a spectacularly original and compassionate thinker, Far from the Tree explores how people who love each other must struggle to accept each other—a theme in every family’s life.

This is probably an unusual choice of literature for me considering I have zero interest in ever being a mother, however, I am someone’s child and it helped me see the humanity in my mother.

The main reason I picked this one up is, foremost, that it was written by Andrew Solomon. His book The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression was one of the most profoundly beautiful and in depth books I’ve ever read on the illness, and I fell in love with his TedTalks.

Being nearly a 1,000 page book, I was a little hesitant going into Far From the Tree. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a subject that couldn’t be further from my life. I don’t exactly relate to the subjects discussed; deafness, dwarfism, autism, schizophrenia, disability, prodigies, transgender, crime etc. but that was the gift in reading this hefty tome. A deeper understanding of culture and diversity.

Solomon’s writing gives such a beautiful eloquence and insight into the voices of those afflicted with disabilities and differences. I was drawn in to each and every person’s story. The chapter about children conceived in rape was tragic and intense; at times very hard to read. Every story was infuriating, and the politics and history on abortion was intriguing.

Solomon zig zags between sharing personal memoirs of those closely related to or afflicted by disabilities, tragedies and differences woven with history, medical and political views of these illnesses and controversies.

Profoundly educational, medically descriptive, and deeply personal this is one of the most important books I’ll probably have ever read on humanity.

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