My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In Far From The Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, 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.” He writes about families “coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender.”
I fell in love with Solomon’s insight right from the first page. He also raises a lot of intriguing questions that I have to admit in my innocence I never asked myself. For example: is being Deaf a disability or an identity? If it were a disability, then that means we believe there is something wrong with a deaf person, that he must hear, and that we must do all we can to give every Deaf child a Cochlear implant and teach him how to speak and live in a world with sound. But if you believe it is not a disability but an identity, then wouldn’t giving a child a Cochlear implant be tantamount to erasing a culture (for example, Deaf Theater) and language (for example, ASL)? Wouldn’t it be, in effect, an act of genocide? The same question is asked about autism and Down syndrome: if each were an identity, then does that mean we should stop looking for a cure and instead focus on celebrating different expressions of personhood? But even stripping them of the disability label has repercussions – they will lose state support and the financial protection given to PWDs.
Identity is complex. We cannot blame or praise just one factor, be it genetics, or environment, or education. How do you raise a child you give birth to but who is different from you? In the book are stories of courageous men and women, but also stories of horror (like that story of a schizophrenic who was driven out of town by his mother and sister, and shot by his sister on the side of the road).
This beautifully written book was an eye-opening read for me.