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

4.21 of 5 stars 4.21  ·  rating details  ·  7,904 ratings  ·  1,321 reviews
From the National Book Award-winning author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression comes a monumental new work, a decade in the writing, about family. In Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so.

Solomon's startling proposition is that diversity...more
Hardcover, 976 pages
Published November 13th 2012 by Scribner
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Greg
With the full disclosure that I work for the publisher of Far from the Tree and spent a lot of time helping to bring this book to life, I can say hands-down that this is one of the very best--and most important--works of nonfiction I've ever read (and probably will read for a long time to come).

Solomon, who won The National Book Award for The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, spent ten years interviewing families that are extraordinary in every sense of the word, but most particularly in t...more
Caroline
This highly lauded and hefty book is about the experience of having a child outside the norm. The author explores homosexuality (his own), and the lives of a variety of children who are dwarfs, severely disabled, schizophrenic, deaf, transgendered, criminal and those with Down's Syndrome. The author is a psychiatrist. I found him to be a man of exceptional kindness and wisdom, who writes with much thoughtfulness about the families he interviewed, and the illness, disabilities or identities he ha...more
Stephanie Patterson
I have been disabled all my life. I have cerebral palsy which means that at this point in my life I walk with two canes. Though my parents sought medical attention for me, eventually they embraced my paternal grandmother's Christian Science faith. I have through the years been considered crippled, handicapped, disabled, differently abled and physically challenged. I am who I am both because of and in spite of my parents.
Andrew Solomon's book is wonderful because he is so open to any possibilit...more
Moira Russell
This book can be best described as a Piping Hot Mess....this book's topic bites off not only more than Solomon himself can chew, but more than that guy who's won the Nathan's Famous Forth of July hotdog-eating contest for the past six years running could chew, in all six years.

Read the rest of this review at my blog.
Mia
I'll be the odd reader out here on Goodreads and admit I did not like this book. There were some lovely sentences, some very nice connections established between ideas....but there was a lot of clunk, too.

One of the disappointments for me is that the book doesn't so much document how "ordinary" families have dealt with unexpected horizontal identities in their children as it documents how extraordinary and wealthy families have done so--except in the chapters about rape and crime....there, it se...more
Lisa
This book should be called Far From the Truth. I started highlighting passages on page 8 of my Nook. Since I'm a freelance journalist, I wrote an op-ed about my issues with the book:

My op-ed

Because of the gross inaccuracies in the Deaf chapter, I was leery about the other chapters, so the whole book was kind of ruined for me.

There is ripe fodder for discussion - for many reasons. I did enjoy the families' stories, and learned some things about other disabilities. I didn't know, for example, abo...more
Ami
When this book originally came out, I thought I didn't need to read it, since I'm not especially interested in having children of my own. There are not even words to describe how off the mark I was about that. Like the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, which purports to be able introverts but is actually more about what humans need to exist happily in the world, this book is ostensibly about children but is really about how humans learn to fit themselves int...more
Anita
This book has shoved aside books I planned to read for months. I really identify with Andrew Solomon's difficulties growing up gay and dyslexic, despite being neither, which is a testament to how broad and powerful the ideas and stories about 'disability' in here are.

Most of this was five stars, an incredible piece of reporting, but there were a couple of chapters where I felt the research and analysis dropped in quality, which I think was inevitable, given a tome of this size. It's a powerful b...more
Judie
Dec 04, 2013 Judie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
When it comes to having children, Andrew Solomon doesn’t believe in reproduction. He says the word implies making a copy of something. He does believe in production, recognizing that every child is a new, different, individual person. He acknowledges that children do share some traits with their parents, which he calls vertical identity. They may have some traits different from their families but shared by peers. These he calls horizontal identity. He is gay. His parents are straight. Gay is a h...more
Lambert
It took me a fairly long time to read this book. Not because it is dry, but because it made me stop and reflect not only on my life, but on those around me. This has to be the kindest book I have read in a long time. Mr. Solomon is so generous and open with everyone he interviews. He also gives of himself to those same people. Many are in very distressing situations, others have coped with awful situations and done so spectacularly, The author is not at all shy to point out what he learned from...more
Hadrian
This is a very personal examination of the role of parenthood, and examines it through the lens of 'identity'. Solomon describes two forms of identity - 'vertical', that which is transmitted from, and can be identified with, the parents, and 'horizontal' - that which significantly differs from the parent and has no mark of their influence.

What might be included in 'horizontal identity'? Deafness, dwarfism, schizophrenia, autism, Down syndrome, child prodigies, LGBT people, and so forth. Mental,...more
Mitsy
Feb 21, 2013 Mitsy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: nonfiction
YES! Yes! YES! I WON this Andrew Solomon Book! :) Oh, wow! If you haven't heard of this book, read the summary and, most likely, you'll want to win/read it, too! If you love learning as I do, Far From The Tree is for you. I'm shocked and in awe that I WON this! Yes.

There is a lot of information to be learned in this book. At times, Andrew Solomon writes pages and pages of his thoughts mixed with facts. While I may not agree with him on everything, I thoroughly enjoyed learning so much I never kn...more
Kasa Cotugno
When i picked up this massive book, I thought it would take me weeks maybe months to finish, as I'd planned to dip into it now and then between other books with more linear structure. And now I find myself 3 days later having not been able to put it down. Reading in one stretch -- as one chapter lead to another and the histories brought these cases to life. One reason is Andrew Solomon's obvious empathy for his subjects. Having grown up knowing he was gay, Solomon shared a sense of feeling margi...more
Jessica
I'm still not sure if this was a great book or a terrible book to read while 38-weeks pregnant. I didn't go looking for Far from the Tree, but I came across a copy a few days ago and felt drawn to it. Throughout this pregnancy (my first) I've felt terrified by the possibility of having a child with a serious intellectual disability. It really bothers me that I feel this way, and I was hoping that this book might help me understand why the thought upsets me so much, and even see how I might come...more
Margie
May 12, 2013 Margie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Margie by: Upworthy
Shelves: society
Here's a trailer for the book:
http://www.upworthy.com/news-flash-th...

What a great book. Solomon looks at families, which usually have vertical identities (shared family traits), where children have horizontal identities (characteristics they share with people outside of their families). Being a prodigy or schizophrenic or born with Down syndrome usually gives children an identity they do not share with their parents. It can be bewildering, heartbreaking, and sometimes richly rewarding for those...more
Trish
I did not read every word of this huge book, but I read sections and enough of the whole to get the gist of his focus. Solomon is inclusive in his view of the wide variety of human development and manifestation, and his tone must be incredibly reassuring to parents with children that are different from their more mainstream brethren, to say nothing of persons who themselves manifest special needs.

Solomon is remarkably fluent for someone who struggled with dyslexia in his childhood. One wonders...more
Alex Templeton
This week, a few days after I finished reading it, I found out that this book won the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction. All I can say in response to this is, duh. I imagine this book will be one of the best works of nonfiction I read this year, if not for the next few years. Solomon writes about parents raising children very different than they are, children with what he terms "horizontal" identities. His chapters discuss schizophrenia, autism, Down Syndrome, criminality, transg...more
Genia Lukin
This is an absolutely riveting book, which I really didn't like. The entirety of my problems with it cannot be put into one single review - I'm afraid they may require a book all of their own, with a central thesis and an equivalent amount of research. So I am going to put down some key points of disagreement, and leave it at that.

1. Structure: The book's chapters are absolutely fascinating, unfortunately, they often - almost always - do not focus on the central topic of the book. They describe...more
Leslie
4.5 stars. Incredibly compelling. I could hardly put it down. I was afraid at first that the subject matter would leave me feeling voyeuristic, depressed, and/or enfuriated. I finished the book feeling as if I had gained a deeper understanding of humanity. It caused me to reflect on my own differences and similarities, both within my family and in relation to other families. The book does get long and it can be a downer, but I thought it was worth every page.

I am completely impressed by Solomon'...more
Molly Parker
Its not very often that I find a non-fiction book that I really loved and didn't want to put down. This is one of those. I've seen other reviews and they seem to vary depending on your life situation and opinions. Each chapter dealt with a different disability/difference/issue which kept it uncluttered and allowed the author to focus. The book deals with those born different from their parents or at least not what the parents expected.
I found it very interesting to see the perspective of famili...more
Elizabeth
Andrew Solomon has written an epic book about families who have children who are "different": gay, deaf, dwarfs, down syndrome, autistic, schizophrenic, disabled, prodigies, criminals, transgender, and the product of rape. It might seem this is a grim topic for a huge (700 pages) book, but it is not. It is about coping, learning, triumphing...in most cases. There seems to be no way to celebrate the life of a criminal...and Solomon interviews one of the families of the Columbine shooters...but th...more
Shana
Don't let the thickness or the seemingly daunting and depressing description keep you away from this book! On the surface, this book is about families living with extraordinary circumstances, but in fact, it is much, much more. It is about vertical identities (shared within a family) versus horizontal identities, which a child shares with people that are not his or her parents.

Solomon takes a chapter each to fully examine topics ranging from Down Syndrome and Deafness to children born of rape an...more
Ryan Bezerra
This is one of the best books I've ever read, in the top ten certainly. I'll admit that a large part of the reason I liked it so much is that it captures, through what must have been hundreds of interviews, the experience of being a parent of a child with a disability. It is perhaps a little too ambitious in that it ventures beyond disability-based experiences to those involving the parents of children of rape and, especially, of children who have committed crimes. Frankly, I think that the chap...more
Beth
This book looks at what the author calls "horizontal identities", such as deafness, being gay, being autistic, etc. He has interviewed the families that deal with these challenges and, when he can, the people who have them.

The stories are interesting and he makes some important points. However, I think he goes on way too long with his own ruminations.

I lost patience with Mr. Solomon several times, but I'm still glad I read it.
Karyn
Nov 14, 2012 Karyn marked it as to-read
What an important, interesting, and yet difficult subject to tackle. Was so impressed by this NYT review of the book:

"Far From the Tree” is partly an argument for the merit to be found in extreme diversity. Discussing athletes with disabilities, for example, Mr. Solomon says, in lines that echo across this book: “Some kinds of grace would not have entered the world if everyone’s hips and legs worked the same way. Deformity has been brought into beauty’s fold, a catalyst for justice rather than...more
Kathleen
This book is just OK. It has some wonderful passages and, yes, is a haunting homage to the love of parents for their children (usually). With a lesser writer, this would be a complete disaster. As it is, Andrew Solomon has written something thoughtful and entertaining that's not sufficiently cohesive. It really couldn't be, as the subject is far too broad. He approaches the subject of what it's like to be the parent of a child who is dramatically different from the parent (has a disability, dwar...more
Lauren
One of the best books I've ever read.
Anny
 
I was the last to hear you
Scream because I did not
Want it to be true. You cried
Out in torment and the sun
Kept shining through the leaves.
That wasn't right.
-- Jennifer Franklin


Parenthood is usually something to celebrate. In traditional societies, parents raised children that will continue their trades and that one day will take care of their parents in turn. So how would parents react to raising children that were 'different' from themselves?

Deaf children posed such challenge to hea...more
Amy Warrick

I was intrigued by the avalanche of publicity surrounding this book and was happy to find it absolutely fascinating.

Andrew Solomon is gay, and his parents had difficulty accepting and understanding his identity. He is also married, and he and his husband were contemplating having children. After writing (for magazines) about couple of the topics that ended up in the book, he embarked on an incredible ten-years' journey seeking out how parents deal with children who are markedly different, loo...more
Susan
I was disappointed in this book, but not because it wasn't written or researched well, which it was and is. I deeply loved his previous book, "The Noonday Demon", and was excited to read this. But.....the writer is a gay man, who was moved from his own experience as a young man struggling with his own 'difference' within his family to...write about parenting children with disabilities? Mental illness? Children who had been raped? This odd pairing of being gay with having a disability or being ra...more
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how can anyone like this book? 38 139 Aug 14, 2014 12:53PM  
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Andrew Solomon writes about politics, culture, and health. He lives in New York and London. He has written for many publications--such as the New York Times, The New Yorker and Artforum--on topics including depression, Soviet artists, the cultural rebirth of Afghanistan, Libyan politics, and deaf culture. He is also a Contributing Writer for Travel and Leisure. In 2008, he was awarded the Humanita...more
More about Andrew Solomon...
The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression A Stone Boat The Irony Tower: Soviet Artists in a Time of Glasnost Oleg Vassiliev: Memory Speaks (Themes and Variations) The Reckoning: Searching for Meaning with the Father of the Sandy Hook Killer

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“I wish I'd been accepted sooner and better. When I was younger, not being accepted made me enraged, but now, I am not inclined to dismantle my history. If you banish the dragons, you banish the heroes--and we become attached to the heroic strain in our personal history. We choose our own lives. It is not simply that we decide on the behaviors that construct our experience; when given our druthers, we elect to be ourselves. Most of us would like to be more successful or more beautiful or wealthier, and most people endure episodes of low self-esteem or even self-hatred. We despair a hundred times a day. But we retain the startling evolutionary imperative for the fact of ourselves, and with that splinter of grandiosity we redeem our flaws. These parents have, by and large, chosen to love their children, and many of them have chosen to value their own lives, even though they carry what much of the world considers an intolerable burden. Children with horizontal identities alter your self painfully; they also illuminate it. They are receptacles for rage and joy-even for salvation. When we love them, we achieve above all else the rapture of privileging what exists over what we have merely imagined.

A follower of the Dalai Lama who had been imprisoned by the Chinese for decades was asked if he had ever been afraid in jail, and he said his fear was that he would lose compassion for his captors. Parents often think that they've captured something small and vulnerable, but the parents I've profiled here have been captured, locked up with their children's madness or genius or deformity, and the quest is never to lose compassion. A Buddhist scholar once explained to me that most Westerners mistakenly think that nirvana is what you arrive at when your suffering is over and only an eternity of happiness stretches ahead. But such bliss would always be shadowed by the sorrow of the past and would therefore be imperfect. Nirvana occurs when you not only look forward to rapture, but also gaze back into the times of anguish and find in them the seeds of your joy. You may not have felt that happiness at the time, but in retrospect it is incontrovertible.

For some parents of children with horizontal identities, acceptance reaches its apogee when parents conclude that while they supposed that they were pinioned by a great and catastrophic loss of hope, they were in fact falling in love with someone they didn't yet know enough to want. As such parents look back, they see how every stage of loving their child has enriched them in ways they never would have conceived, ways that ar incalculably precious. Rumi said that light enters you at the bandaged place. This book's conundrum is that most of the families described here have ended up grateful for experiences they would have done anything to avoid.”
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“In the heat of an argument, my mother once told me, "Someday you can go to a therapist and tell him all about how your terrible mother ruined your life. But it will be your ruined life you're talking about. So make a life for yourself in which you can feel happy, and in which you can love and be loved, because that's what's actually important." You can love someone but not accept him; you can accept someone but not love him. I wrongly felt the flaws in my parents' acceptance as deficits in their love. Now, I think their primary experience was of having a child who spoke a language they'd never thought of studying.” 20 likes
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