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Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity | [Andrew Solomon]

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

A brilliant and utterly original thinker, Andrew Solomon's journey began from his experience of being the gay child of straight parents. He wondered how other families accommodate children who have a variety of differences: families of people who are deaf, who are dwarfs, who have Down syndrome, who have autism, who have schizophrenia, who have multiple severe disabilities, who are prodigies, who commit crimes, who are transgender.
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Publisher's Summary

National Book Critics Circle Award, Nonfiction, 2013

From the National Book Award-winning author of the "brave...deeply humane...open-minded, critically informed, and poetic" (The New York Times) The Noonday Demon, comes a game-changer of a book about the impact of extreme personal and cultural difference between parents and children.

A brilliant and utterly original thinker, Andrew Solomon's journey began from his experience of being the gay child of straight parents. He wondered how other families accommodate children who have a variety of differences: families of people who are deaf, who are dwarfs, who have Down syndrome, who have autism, who have schizophrenia, who have multiple severe disabilities, who are prodigies, who commit crimes, who are transgender. Bookended with Solomon's experiences as a son, and then later as a father, this book explores the old adage that says the apple doesn't fall far from the tree; instead some apples fall a couple of orchards away, some on the other side of the world.

In 12 sharply observed and moving chapters, Solomon describes individuals who have been heartbreaking victims of intense prejudice, but also stories of parents who have embraced their childrens' differences and tried to change the world's understanding of their conditions. Solomon's humanity, eloquence, and compassion give a voice to those people who are never heard. A riveting, powerful take on a major social issue, Far from the Tree offers far-reaching conclusions about new families, academia, and the way our culture addresses issues of illness and identity.

©2012 Andrew Solomon (P)2012 Simon & Schuster, Inc

What the Critics Say

"In Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon reminds us that nothing is more powerful in a child's development than the love of a parent. This remarkable new book introduces us to mothers and fathers across America - many in circumstances the rest of us can hardly imagine - who are making their children feel special, no matter what challenges come their way." (President Bill Clinton)

"This is one of the most extraordinary books I have read in recent times - brave, compassionate and astonishingly humane. Solomon approaches one of the oldest questions - how much are we defined by nature versus nurture? - and crafts from it a gripping narrative. Through his stories, told with such masterful delicacy and lucidity, we learn how different we all are, and how achingly similar. I could not put this book down." (Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies)

"An informative and moving book that raises profound issues regarding the nature of love, the value of human life, and the future of humanity." (Kirkus)

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  •  
    C. Beaton Eureka, CA 12-14-12
    C. Beaton Eureka, CA 12-14-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A Gripping Masterpiece"

    This is one of the most intelligent, expansive, and interesting books I have ever listened to - but it is not for everyone. It is very long and some of the topics are distressing, but gripping. I have no children special or otherwise, but I am a retired special ed teacher and have always wondered how people dealt with having a disabled child.

    Mr. Solomon does not "talk down" to the reader. He expects his reader to be well-educated and with a good vocabulary. His Ivy League education, intelligence and literacy infuse each page. I'm so glad Mr. Solomon narrated his own book. His voice is a little hard to get used to, but I grew to love the sound of it - and grew to love him as well. Only he could inflect the voices of the people he interviewed. I'm glad I took the time to listen to it instead of reading it. Hearing it made the book great to me. I don't think I would have enjoyed it nearly as much if I had read it. Listening forces you to slow down and hear each word. I am a very fast reader and miss a lot of detail and beauty of language - listening to books has opened up a new world of literature for me, and this non-fiction book is written so beautifully that I'm glad I heard every word.

    If you are interested in this subject, have the time to sink yourself deeply into a fascinating new world, I highly recommend this beautiful book.

    19 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Molly-o Seattle 01-09-13
    Molly-o Seattle 01-09-13 Member Since 2007

    English major. Love to read

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Stunned!"

    I don't know how I am going to go on to my next book. Andrew Solomon's voice, physically and emotionally, has found its way into my soul. If you are reading this review, you know what this book is about (is it dry, you ask?), you know it is very, very long and that some people have said that his narration is flawed.

    The book has more than research; it weaves research with case studies that makes the research live and breathe and stay with you far longer than you can imagine (I usually read fiction!). It is very, very long, but I slowed the listening of it down at the very end because I couldn't bear not to be listening to these stories of profound courage. I relished its length.

    And Andrew's voice (I am calling him Andrew because he shared his story with me) brings you carefully and warmly into these people's lives while delineating his comprehensive but not boring research. He doesn't compare to Colin Firth but who's comparing? It doesn't matter because once you get the cadence down, he is telling you a startling story and he will capture you. AND he is a beautiful writer.

    I am grateful to have been able to listen to this book.

    14 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    N. Toomey Montclair, NJ 11-27-12
    N. Toomey Montclair, NJ 11-27-12 Member Since 2011
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    "A peek into deeply challenged lives"
    If you could sum up Far from the Tree in three words, what would they be?

    Eye-opening, poignant, triumphant


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Far from the Tree?

    The forgiveness of a healthcare worker by parents whose MDS child who died because of a random careless act.


    How could the performance have been better?

    I believe a different narrator, not the author but a professional actor would elevate the experience of listening.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The question of correcting 'flaws' of nature in lieu of accepting a creature as created by God and by genetics, etc. creates a paradox with mixed feelings and a sense of knowing that either choice can be right or wrong but inevitably is irrevocable.


    Any additional comments?

    For parents and future parents because you never know if you will be a subject of such a book.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Boudi PA 12-03-12
    Boudi PA 12-03-12 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Worldview Shift"
    What made the experience of listening to Far from the Tree the most enjoyable?

    Recieving a new, different perspective on human diversity.


    What didn’t you like about Andrew Solomon’s performance?

    At first I actually thought is was a robot reader. He is flat, choppy, and sounds like a synthetic voice. I've heard him give interviews and he was vibrant and engaged; however, not so in the reading. I acatually considered not listening, but the content is worth putting up with the performance.

    Hire a professional performer so the reading is as good as the content.


    What’s an idea from the book that you will remember?

    Growth occurs through connecting with all that is possible within any human.


    Any additional comments?

    A book that will change lives.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Virginia C Hamner Vero Beach, FL United States 01-30-13
    Virginia C Hamner Vero Beach, FL United States 01-30-13
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    "Thought-provoking, challenging work."
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    I would absolutely recommend this book. Solomon has crafted a book that is astonishing in its scope, brilliant in its observations, and compassionate with its intensely personal material.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The depth of the research and the gentle and compassionate way that Solomon treats his subjects brings an incredible intimacy to each of his topics - deafness, down syndrome, autism, dwarfism, multiple severe disabilities, rape, crime - allowing the listener insight into issues and worlds of horizontal identities that might forever be out of sight to those not touched personally by the issues. His overarching thesis brings the threads of difference and disability together in a way that deeply affects the listener/reader.


    Which character – as performed by Andrew Solomon – was your favorite?

    n/a


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    As the mother of a child on the autism spectrum, his discussion of autism was closest to my heart. However, it was in his discussion of the ways in which parenthood and children's identity create complex emotional issues that parents must navigate that I found profoundly moving.


    Any additional comments?

    In my opinion, anyone affected by any of the differences or disabilities he discusses would find this book deeply moving. However, it is also my opinion that any parent, or in fact anyone at all, would come away from this work with new perspectives on compassion, understanding, and the nature of identity. For this reason, I think everyone who reads or listens to this work will come away a better person.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cynthia Monrovia, California, United States 12-23-12
    Cynthia Monrovia, California, United States 12-23-12 Member Since 2012

    Audible listener who's grateful for a long commute!

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    "Parenting a Different Child/Astounding Book"

    The morning of December 14, 2012, I had a long drive and intermittent NPR stations, so I continued to listen to "Far From the Tree". The printed book is 702 pages long, and it's about 40 Audible hours. I was on Chapter X, Crime.

    The book is beautifully narrated, and author/narrator Andrew Solomon's pronounciation of difficult terms is flawless. Even so, it's a difficult listen.

    I have often wished that Audible had a true Table of Contents, and never more than with this book. The chapters are (with thanks to Amazon print) I. Son; II.Deaf III. Dwarfs IV. Downs Syndrome V. Autism VI. Schizophrenia VII. Disabilities VIII. Prodigies IX. Rape X. Crime XI. Transgender XII. Father.

    Each section could, on its own, be a separate book - with the exception of I. Son and XII. Father - combine those two, and those would make a book.

    Dwight Garner and Julie Meyer, writing separate reviews for the New York Times in November, love the book unreservedly. After listening to "Columbine", I was thinking of using a credit for this new book. I purchased "Far From the Tree" right after reading Meyer's rhapsodic review.

    I am the mother of two teenagers who would not be in any of Solomon's chapters, but each and every section made me ache with my love for them. The challenges of normal teenagers, with raging hormones, lightning fast mood changes, and their sudden bursts of astounding clarity pale in comparison to what Solomon's families face. I am a better parent to them knowing that they are 'normal'.

    I'm not a physician, sociologist or therapist - I'm just a Mom. I gained real confidence in trying my best to be a good Mom from this book. It was the best 'parenting' book I've read since "What to Expect When You're Expecting" by Heidi Muroff and Sharon Mazel. The books are entirely different, but reading them has the same effect. I am more (not less) confident about my mothering because of these books.

    Which brings me back to December 14, 2012, the day of the Newtown/Sandy Hook mass murder. I have been wondering since then whether Sue Klebold, if given the choice, would have rather have been in Nancy Lanza's position - killed before she knew what her son did. I suspect not, and I hope Solomon can answer the queston for us.


    [If you found this review helpful, please let me know by clicking the helpful button.]

    23 of 29 people found this review helpful
  •  
    jennifer BROOKLYN, NY, United States 09-08-13
    jennifer BROOKLYN, NY, United States 09-08-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Fascinating"

    This is a quiet listen for those interested in the psychology of atypical parent-child relationships. It won't grip you, it won't suck you in, but you can pick up and listen at any point and get into it, which is unusual for an audiobook. I learned a lot about people with disabilities from this book, and have gained an appreciation for the exceptional circumstances depicted herein.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Donna GROVE CITY, OH, United States 01-02-13
    Donna GROVE CITY, OH, United States 01-02-13 Member Since 2012
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    "A Must Read for Parents and Educators"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes - this book is celebrates the differences in all of us while depicting the joys and sorrows of having children who create a new normal.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The mix of personal stories with research about every topic he writes about made this book flow. Many of the personal stories were heartbreaking or made you cringe. Then he would detail the research about the particular topic - then another story. Fantastic.


    What does Andrew Solomon bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    This book is 40 hours of listening. Reading through this book would have required an enormous amount of 'sitting' time. Listening allows the 'reader' to work out, cook, clean, do laundry, etc and makes each activity more enjoyable.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Yes it made me laugh and cry at various times.


    Any additional comments?

    Thank you

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Doggy Bird Glen Ridge, NJ USA 12-31-12
    Doggy Bird Glen Ridge, NJ USA 12-31-12

    Mes livres preferes sont les grands classiques, certains romans, la poésie, et l'histoire. J'aime écouter dans la voiture et au gym.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Moving study of identity and unconditional love"

    This was a very long book with great emotional impact. It is very heartfelt and sincere and one of the most moving books I have read. I usually am wary of authors who read their own books, but the emotion of the author adds meaning to this text and is an important part of the experience. The book is a very personal exploration of the experience of parenthood of children who fall 'far from the tree'. The author interviews hundreds of families, focusing on parents with children who are 'different'. Most are children who are different from 'typical' society as well as different from their parents. The author refers to the identity shared with others not of the family as 'horizontal' identity. This is distinguished from a 'vertical' identity from family membership (i.e. father down to son). However the book also studies the issue of parents who purposefully or incidentally conceive children who share their horizontal identity. The issues the book raises are complex, emotional, and sometimes challenging and frustrating (not in terms of comprehension but rather in terms of experiencing emotionally difficult subject matter and politically/philosophically/religiously sensitive views). The book explores the limits of human morality and human dignity. The author concludes that the ability to sustain a horizontal identity with the love and support of parents and family is critical to a happy life for people whose lives are considered 'not typical' and that the ability to accept and embrace these horizontal identities -especially when it is foreign to us- is part of what 'love' requires.

    I cannot say it is the 'best' book I ever read, or even the best I have read recently, but it is one of the most meaningful ones due to the weight of its subject. It's about identity, parental love, loss, fulfillment, disability, eugenics, abortion - pretty weighty stuff. What is wonderful about this book is that it presents the reader with the situation that initially faced the unwary parents and then pushes you to look at the situation from different perspectives. It discusses the implications of actions that are very emotional and asks you - or maybe forces you to examine the logical or illogical conclusions of your own beliefs and prejudices and those of the parents involved. It asks you to consider what you take for granted and what you are willing to reconsider in light of what you hear.

    The book stemmed from the author's own experience of growing up gay with parents who initially rejected that identity in their son. He seems to have suffered his own homophobia as a result even after he grew comfortable as an adult with a gay identity. Thus, the question of identity and parental love is central to his quest to understand the many identities of the people in the different groups he studies - deaf children, those with autism, Downs Syndrome children, criminal children, schizophrenics, etc. Sometimes the book bogs down with all the different identities and examples, but it is always valuable and sincere and the multiplicity of examples helps to illuminate different aspects of the issues.

    The book ends with a discussion of the author's own decision to become a parent. It's thus a very personal book as well as a study of parents and children with 'horizontal identities'. It is very focused on parental love and unconditional love and the nature of acceptance. Although I highly recommend the book, I think those who find it most satisfying will be those with some connection to people with horizontal identities or readers with very open minds willing to ask themselves questions that don't always have easy or evident answers.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Raleigh greensboro, NC, United States 04-21-14
    Raleigh greensboro, NC, United States 04-21-14 Member Since 2009
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    "two books about family / both good"

    ? does the prospect of parenthood seem daunting to you
    ? do you have strained relations with your parents or children
    ? do you struggle to just understand members of your own family

    andrew solomon has written a vast and well-researched 2 part book for you
    the miles travelled and calories burned, in writing this book, are impressive
    i suspect, it will incentivize other lesser writers to explore this topic

    the 1st book involves dwarfism, autism, deafness, schizophrenia and down's
    the tone is empathetic and insightful / the emphasis is on fixing the problem
    mr. solomon puts his subjects at ease as he draws out their stories

    the 2nd book involves rape, MSD, crime, prodigies, transgender and father/son
    the tone is a bit caustic and preachy / the emphasis is on fixing the blame
    mr. solomon seems to use his subjects to make his personal point

    overall, the book's empathy and patience and time invested are impressive
    however, mr. solomon is clear eyed and critical when he needs to be
    especially when risks aren't assessed and mistakes are made repeatedly

    in the future, i hope the book's scope may extend beyond our shores
    american medicine is such an outlier compared to other 1st world countries
    we just love invasive surgery, expensive drugs and the latest therapeutic fad

    ? could it be that other, less affluent, cultures have answers for these issues
    ? if the book's struggles truly are universal, there may be better foreign answers
    i'd be interested to know how the world's most ancient cultures approach them

    mr. solomon is an operatic, depressed, misunderstood, gay, jewish new yorker
    it's impressive how often he fits these attributes into his subjects stories
    this tendency is so persistent that it's almost anthropomorphic

    mr. solomon has written a truly great book that will help many people
    but his own story is not as important as the story of his subjects
    he's a more than talented writer and, in time, he'll learn to get out of the way





    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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