Monday, October 31, 2016

Book review: Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

Far from the Tree is a book by Andrew Solomon. It is subtitled "parents, children and the search for identity" and it will change the way you think about people, particularly people who are different.

The title comes from the phrase "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree", referring to the idea that children are not that dissimilar from their parents. But some children are quite dissimilar from their parents and this book is about some of them. Far from the Tree got amazing reviews and it grabbed me from the opening:

There is no such thing as reproduction. When two people decide to have a baby, they engage in an act of production, and the widespread use of the word reproduction for this activity, with its implication that two people are but braiding themselves together, is at best a euphemism to comfort prospective parents before they get in over their heads

The first chapter is titled "Son" and the last is "Father". Each of the others is about a particular kind of difference:
  • Deaf
  • Dwarfs
  • Down Syndrome
  • Autism
  • Schizophrenia
  • Disability
  • Prodigies
  • Rape (which is about children whose mothers were raped)
  • Crime
  • Transgender
Each chapter mixes personal stories of parents and children that fit the chapter's title with more general information about the condition and, in most cases, communities that have sprung up around each condition. The only thing that all these conditions have in common is that the child is, in some way, far from the tree (at least in most cases - some of these conditions do have a genetic component).

I don't agree with all that Solomon says; you probably won't either. But that is not the point. This is not a polemic designed to change your opinion in a certain direction, rather, it is a book to open your eyes to things you might not have seen before. It is a book about the nature of humanity. Far from the Tree changed the way I think about people and I daresay it will change the way you think, as well.

Andrew Solomon is a writer and lecturer on psychology, politics and the arts. He is a winner of the National Book Award and an activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights. He is also the author of The Noonday Demon which is about depression.

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