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

farfromthetreeby Andrew Solomon, read by the author

This book took me 40 days to listen — the audio book version is about 42 hours long.

There were days that I just couldn’t get myself back to listen to the next segment because the emotional exhaustion experienced in a previous segment prevented me from delving back into the book — mostly because some of the personal stories that Solomon reported are incredibly intense and affecting.

My reaction toward the book changed several times through this long journey: at first, I was just in awe and was glad that I got to learn something about situations that I don’t have personal experiences with — that I learned about Deaf Culture and the polarized opinions on whether deafness should be cured; about families with Little People and the historical and medical aspects of Dwarfism — and the perils and blisses of “cures” such as limp lengthening procedures; about children and adults with Down Syndroms, their defeat and success and what researchers are still finding and what life is like for so many of them…

Then, my relationship with the book changed slightly, listening to the chapters on DS, Autism, Schizophrenia, and Disability.  Even though the conditions described differ from chapter to chapter, some recurring themes emerge. Mainly we are shown (and told) by Solomon repeatedly that just because two people or two families have the same “problem” does not mean that they have the same views and reactions on the situation.  Indeed, it’s proven over and over and over (yes, there are a lot of repeating patterns in the book, both in the reporting and the reflecting from the author, although there were always new expressions to say the same thing) that each and every situation is inherently complex: there are the matters of the illness (condition,) the matters of the economics, the matters of the societal views, and definitely matters of the heart: the heart of the parents and the children.  I complained a bit then about how each chapter seems to repeat itself… and was reminded that perhaps very few readers of this tome would have gone through the book the same manner I did.  The way Solomon put together the book allows for essential information and themes to not be lost even if a reader only reads one or two chapters.

I settled down then and became more open minded to the worlds of Prodigies, Rape victims and their children, Criminals and their parents, and Transgender people.  I don’t know whether these chapters were better put together or whether my mind was more willing to appreciate them. Nonetheless, I found myself constantly finding revelations and new information worth learning in these final segments.  They let me consider situations and hardships and joys that I NEVER contemplated.  Yes, I felt like I was made a slightly “better” person by sharing the author’s empathetic and compassionate views and by being more educated about situations that I didn’t really understand before.

The final chapter of Solomon’s personal story of fatherhood (3 families, 5 children, fathered by himself and his partner for others and for themselves) serves as a wonderful and hopeful conclusion to a heavy — in all senses — book.

Since the reports are so thorough and the stories so well told, there might be an illusion that after reading this book, one could feel quite an expert in the ins and outs of these various conditions and their ramifications.  I cautioned myself to not “just take Solomon’s words for it” since even though I found myself agreeing with him a LOT, I don’t really know enough about anything presented here (socio-economic, historical, societal, medical, ethical, etc.) to judge the book’s validity in its entirety.  Did I learn a WHOLE lot about all these conditions?  I sure did.  But to me, there is an even more important added value: Solomon’s book is a great reminder for me to pay attention to wide angles on many issues and to consider the multitude of outcomes that changing of one or few small factors could cause.

I am so glad that I got to experience this book this summer.  I hope some others do too!

There is a full website with rich content that one can explore, too: Here – http://www.farfromthetree.com/

1 Comment

Filed under Book Notes

One response to “Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

  1. fairrosa

    Case in point of my not knowing enough of each condition to decide whether to fully trust the details of the reports: Lisa A. Goldstein, a freelance journalist with a Master’s in Journalism from UC Berkeley who was born profoundly deaf and raised to lipread and speak wrote this piece in response to the Deaf chapter:

    I can’t imagine a book without bias from the author, and especially not an author who has some very personal views … Solomon consistently compares his experiences as a gay person to (and draws parallels between) those of other conditions. I do think his goal was not to write a definitive encyclopedia on these conditions but to write about what complex and varied each condition’s outcomes are for individuals and individual families. And to that extend, I think he succeeded. (And I hope that that’s what most people took away from it and not using specific examples or claims to perpetuate misconceptions…)


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