Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity is a truly amazing labour of love – and one of my favourite books of the past decade. Over seven years, Solomon has interviewed over 300 families where parents have children who are different from themselves in a defining way, across ten different categories, including deafness, dwarves, autistic and criminal children. He expertly weaves the diverse experience of these families into a narrative whole, looking at how parents come to love and accept children who are not what they expected, and to see the surprising positives in some of the most daunting challenges.
To what degree do these parents accept their children as they are, try to cure them, or a blend of both? What is it like to inhabit those identities, here and now? And (perhaps most intriguingly), is it better to get by in the mainstream world, with effort, but always be aware of not quite fitting in, or to relax into your natural self in a marginal world?
I was sucked into this book from the first page because of the masterful storytelling – a regular New Yorker writer, Solomon exemplifies the world-class reportage that the magazine is famous for. But I was left thinking about it for weeks and months afterwards because of the way Solomon explores questions at the heart of what makes us human, through the subject of parenting under challenging circumstances. Sometimes, he suggests, when we are forced to work harder for something, we value it even more.
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
Andrew Solomon will be giving the Opening Address at the Sydney Writers’ Festival on 20th May 2014 – for more details click the banner below…
Far From the Tree
Sometimes your child – the most familiar person of all – is radically different from you. The saying goes that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But what happens when it does?
In this seminal new study of family, Andrew Solomon tells the stories of parents who learn to deal with their exceptional children and find profound meaning in doing so.
He introduces us to families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, disability, with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, Solomon documents repeated triumphs of human love and compassion to show that the shared experience of difference is what unites us.
Drawing on interviews with over three hundred families, Solomon documents ordinary people making courageous choices, whether considering prenatal screening for genetic disorders, cochlear implants for the deaf, or gender reassignment surgery.
Parents and children are challenged to their limits, but often grow closer as a result; many discover supportive communities of others similarly affected; some are inspired to become activists, celebrating the conditions they once feared.
Elegantly reported by a spectacularly original thinker, Far From The Tree explores themes of generosity, acceptance and tolerance – and shows how love for one’s children can transcend every prejudice. This crucial and revelatory book expands our definition of what it is to be human.
About the Author
Andrew Solomon is a writer and activist working on politics, culture and psychology. He writes regularly for The New Yorker, Newsweek, and The Guardian. He is a Lecturer in Psychiatry at Cornell University and Special Adviser on LGBT Affairs to Yale University’s Department of Psychiatry. The Noonday Demon won the 2001 National Book Award and was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize. His highly-acclaimed study of family, Far from the Tree won the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Non-fiction, the Lukas Book Prize and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, among others. He lives with his husband and son in New York and London.
As seen in SMH & THE AGE > Books that changed me: Andrew Solomon
Far from the Tree is a landmark, revolutionary book. It frames an area of inquiry ‐difference between parents and children–that many of us have experienced in our own lives without ever considering it as a phenomenon. Andrew Solomon plumbs his topic thoroughly, humanely, and in a compulsively readable style that makes the book as entertaining as it is illuminating–
Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize– winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad
Andrew Solomon has written a brave and ambitious work, bringing together science, culture and a powerful empathy. Solomon tells us that we have more in common with each other– even with those who seem anything but normal– than we would ever have imagined.
Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers and The Tipping Point
This is a monumental book, the kind that appears once in a decade. It could not be a better example of the literature of diversity.
Steven Pinker, fucking genius and author of The Blank Slate
‘Reading Far from the Tree is a mind-opening experience.’ Eric Kandel
‘Andrew Solomon’s investigation of many of the most intense challenges that parenthood can bring compels us all to re-examine how we understand human difference. Perhaps the greatest gift of this monumental book, full of facts and full of feelings, is that it constantly makes one think, and think again.’ Philip Gourevitch
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.