far from the tree

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

The depth and scope of Far From the Tree is both overwhelming and so fascinating and immersive, I didn't want it to end... and this, for a 976 page book!

Solomon dives into the lives of parents who have children who are on a vertical existence (to the parents' horizontal society-proclaimed-"normal" existence). Children who are in some way - or within multiple facets - different. Each section covers a different condition: Deaf, Dwarfs, Down Syndrome, Autism, Schizophrenia, Disability, Prodigies, Rape, Crime, Transgender. 

From a 1000 page book, one would expect Solomon to be in depth. He is: quite. He not only covers the discomfort and differing boundaries these conditions have the potential cause between parents and their children, but then expands to those differences between the family units and their communities and/or society in general. Where applicable, he illustrates the current abilities of the medical world (as of 2012, when the book was published - in likely all of these categories, things have already changed in the last three years). He discusses how many of these children find their comfort and identities in communities outside of their families (such as in deaf culture or difficult teenagers finding friends and support in violent gangs). Parents often find it a relief that their children find support they are unable to innately to provide but at other times, this can be confusing and frustrating, as they feel like they've "lost" their child to another family. Still other children seek out these alternate families because their parents simply do not want to connect with them and refuse to even attempt. 

The most impressive and engaging element of Far From the Tree was, for me, the multitude of families and individuals Solomon interviewed, researched, studied, and followed for years to compose the structure of the book. I often see reviews for non-fiction like this where the reader complains about the repeated examples provided by the author. I don't understand these complaints because I find all of the stories interesting and informative. Solomon helps the volume of stories become more distinct by taking the opportunities to choose particular elements from each family situation to explain or illuminate things like medical advances or social problems in the greater community.

Although he bookends the greater whole with his own story about growing up a gay man with straight parents and then subsequently writing of his own marriage and becoming a father, Solomon maintains a mostly-unbiased stance throughout most of the narrative, explaining the differing camps on each side of an issue in depth and with precision. When he does break in to proclaim what he thinks about something, the reader gets the impression that he does so because his opinion is so strong (and since I conveniently agree with him on most of the points, it's easy to nod in empathy rather than sensing these interjections as an intrusion).

Because of the length of this book (longer, I'd like to point out, than the first Game of Thrones novel), I chose to listen to it on audiobook. Solomon narrates the book himself, which was an excellent choice. One can hear the empathy in his voice and I felt the reading - smooth and comforting - bolstered the experience of an often-difficult and long book. 

Wonderful and deeply empathetically educational.