Andrew Solomon‘s new book Far from the Tree feels particularly pertinent this week, as many adults who began their lives falling “far from the tree” will see their families for Thanksgiving, and most of these families will probably deal in one way or another with the kinds of issues Solomon describes.
Already known for his award-winning personal account of living with a mood disorder, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, Solomon’s latest and lengthy contribution represents over 10 years of interviews with over 300 extraordinary families with exceptional children. From publisher Scribner:
Solomon’s startling proposition is that diversity is what unites us all. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, 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, as are the triumphs of love Solomon documents in every chapter.
But that’s not all. Solomon’s own childhood differences and subsequent adult developmental process also inform this book. Because a parent disapproved of his homosexuality, for example, he tried reparative therapy. Fast forward, though, to him being an out and proud gay man—and a parent himself.
Dwight Garner, The New York Times: “Mr. Solomon’s first chapter, entitled ‘Son,’ is as masterly a piece of writing as I’ve come across all year. It combines his own story with a taut and elegant précis of this book’s arguments. It is required reading.”
Publishers Weekly describes the book further while also giving praise:
…Solomon relies on anecdotes to convey the herculean tasks facing parents and caregivers of special-needs children because ‘stories acknowledge chaos,’ and he takes great pains to probe the dark side of parental despair and anger, as well as ennobling efforts of resilience and strength. Sifting through arguments about nature versus nurture, Solomon finds some startling moments of discovery, for example, among Deaf activists who ferociously cling to their marginality, parents of children with Down syndrome who express their children’s infinite ‘mystery and beauty,’ and the truculent compassion of Dylan Klebold’s parents, 10 years after the Columbine High School shootings…
Book critic Kathryn Schulz, vulture.com, reaches the following ultimate conclusion:
I seldom cry at books, but I was moved to tears by Far From the Tree more times than I can count. What undid me, again and again, was the radical humanity of these parents, and their gratitude to and for children they never would have chosen. ‘If someone had said to me, Betty, how’d you like to give birth to a lesbian dwarf?, I wouldn’t have checked that box,’ one mother joked. Yet what once seemed alien and unwanted has become beloved beyond expression. A father of a child with Down syndrome says, ‘For David I’d cure it in an instant; but for us, I wouldn’t exchange these experiences for anything. They’ve made us who we are, and who we are is so much better than who we would have been.’ A mother of a deaf child says that she ‘can see no benefit whatsoever in Tom being deaf—for him. But the benefits for me were absolutely huge … I’d been brought up among very clever, high-pressure people. For the first time, through disability, I met people who were good.’ Solomon cites a poll in which parents of disabled children were asked to agree or disagree with a series of statements. One of them was ‘I have increased compassion for others due to my experience.’ One hundred percent of respondents agreed.