06. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Melody H, NonFiction, Science · Tags:

Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon, 960 pages, read by Melody, on 02/05/2013

Far From the Tree is perhaps the greatest non-fiction book that I have ever read.  It is luminous and extraordinary, lucid and clear eyed, heartbreaking and redemptive.  A spare description is to say that Far From the Tree is about parents of exceptional children and their relationships with their children, the medical and educational communities, societal systems, and the greater world itself. Those few words though fail to even begin to capture the complexity of emotions, personality, and humanity that this book about.  Framed by an introduction and a summation, each of the ten chapters deals with a specific condition; some of them conventional disabilities like autism, deafness, or down’s syndrome, and others less easily cataloged, like prodigies, criminals, and children of rape.  Solomon draws from forty thousand pages of interviews he conducted over a decade with parents, children, doctors, educators, activists, and researchers.  He discusses not only the spectrum of each condition but also the causes and treatments.  He cites both cutting edge science and historical precedents.  He debates controversies of limb lengthening, cochlear implants, sexual reassignments and executing children.  But at its heart, Far From the Tree is about parent and child.  What is it like to have a child that is vastly different than you, with experiences you can never really understand, who will likely fail to achieve the basic milestones of life? The parents in Far From the Tree run the gamut of reaction, some become activists and tireless supporters of their children, some try to endure to the best of their abilities, and some institutionalize, abuse, or even murder their children.  Solomon never flinches from the complexity of his subject’s lives.  The chapters on transgender children and the children of rape are especially heart-rending.  Solomon is gay which gives him great insight into being a very different person than a parent expected  and also is a parent which gives him the emotional insight of child-love.  Far From  the Tree is  far from an easy read, it is long, extremely dense, and often emotionally wrenching.  It is though an extremely worthwhile read that will touch your soul.