“Far From the Tree” by Andrew Solomon

13547504Solomon’s meticulous and impeccable detail is a bit arduous at times, but it is this detail that conjures such vivid pictures of the lives of the parents and children he discusses.  He intersperses the personal stories he spent ten years gathering in interviews with exposition on the condition of the chapter (e.g. autism, schizophrenia, deafness, etc.) artfully; sometimes I would have liked a bit less exposition and more personal story but the connection between the two was always clear even as he toggled back and forth.  It’s likely that you will be personally touched by this book; whether you have children or not, and whether you have someone in your life with one of the conditions he discusses or not (though it’s likely that you do), this book is an invitation to reflect on deep questions of identity, disability and love.  In that way, this book is sorely needed.

One potentially alienating aspect of this book is the lack of economic diversity in the families Solomon interviewed.  In his lectures on mental illness (specifically depression), he reminds us that the poor can suffer from depression, too: we often overlook those with hard lives and thus “understandable” reasons to be down and out but “down and out” is not the same and depression.  It didn’t, however, seem like he much remembered the poor when doing his research for this book (there is, however, a chapter entitled “Poverty” in his tome on depression, which I’ll be reviewing next week).  Many of the families could afford top-notch and prolonged care for their children’s treatments and needs; life changes a lot when you have to choose between upgrading your child’s wheelchair and keeping the lights on.

I always appreciate the chance to ask difficult questions.  I also thrive on opportunities to respond.  I don’t want to turn real people into charity cases or objectify them for my own personal gain but I was particularly moved by some of the people and topics within this hefty book and am left without a clear way to express such.  There is a fine line between pity and support; perhaps someone who has spent as much time with these issues, questions and people as Solomon has could provide some guidance for how to navigate the latter.

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