From the National Book Award-winning author of the "brave
open-minded, critically informed, and poetic" (The New York Times) The Noonday Demon, comes a book about the consequences of extreme personal and cultural differences between parents and children.
As a gay child of straight parents, Andrew Solomon was born with a condition that was considered an illness, but it became a cornerstone of his identity. While reporting on the explosion of Deaf pride in the 1990s, he began to consider illness and identity as a continuum with shifting boundaries. Spurred by the disability-rights movement and empowered by the Internet, communities with such "horizontal identities" are challenging expectations and norms.
Their stories begin in families coping with extreme difference: dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, multiple severe disabilities, or prodigious genius; children conceived in rape, or who identify as transgender; children who develop schizophrenia or commit serious crimes. The adage asserts that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, but in Solomon's explorations, some apples fall on the other side of the world.
For ten years, interviewing more than 250 families, Solomon has observed not just how some families learn to deal with exceptional children, but also how they find profound meaning in doing so. An utterly original thinker, Solomon mines the eloquence of ordinary people who have somehow summoned hope and courage in the face of heartbreaking prejudice and almost unimaginable difficulty.
Far from the Tree is a masterpiece that will rattle our prejudices, question our policies, and inspire our understanding of the relationship between illness and identity. Above all, it will renew and deepen our gratitude for the herculean reach of parental love.
Chapter One: Son
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. In the subconscious fantasies that make conception look so alluring, it is often ourselves that we would like to see live forever, not someone with a personality of his own. Having anticipated the onward march of our selfish genes, many of us are unprepared for children who present unfamiliar needs. Parenthood abruptly catapults us into a permanent relationship with a stranger, and the more alien the stranger, the stronger the whiff of negativity. We depend on the guarantee in our children's faces that we will not die. Children whose defining quality annihilates that fantasy of immortality are a particular insult; we must ...
Far From the Tree felt, for this reader anyway, not only inspiring and compelling, but also personal because of its inclusive message. "Difference is what unites us," Andrew Solomon says. "While each of these experiences can isolate those who are affected, together they compose an aggregate of millions whose struggles connect them profoundly. The exceptional is ubiquitous; to be entirely typical is the rare and lonely state." Solomon is a champion of and for people with differences, and so, he's a champion for all of us.
(Reviewed by Morgan Macgregor).
Full Review (1294 words).
One of the stories Solomon tells in Far From The Tree is about Ashley X (the last name is to protect identity), a disabled girl whose story generated a lot of controversy about disability and its treatment.
Ashley X, born in 1997, was diagnosed in infancy with static encephalopathy, a brain disorder that is similar to cerebral palsy. Ashley was labeled "Permanently Unabled," which means that she would remain at infant level, mentally and physically, for the duration of her life. Ashley cannot walk, talk, feed herself, raise her head, or turn over. She can sleep, she can wake, she can breathe, and she can smile. Ashley's parents call her their "Pillow Angel," and dedicate the majority of their days to caring for her in every way - tube-...
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