Thursday, June 22, 2017

Far From The Tree - Andrew Solomon

Sub-title: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

This book occupied most of my June reading, coming in at 702 pages plus 200 pages of notes and bibliography.  I checked it out of the library after listening to a review on the New York Times Book Review podcast.

The author explores the relationship between parents and their exceptional children in terms of how they identify themselves.  He uses the term "horizontal identity" to describe individuals belonging to a group separate from the traditional family relationship.  He illustrates these horizontal identities by interviewing the parents and children in multiple different groups: deaf, dwarf, down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, disability, prodigies, rape, crime, transgender as well as his own identities as a son and father.  It's a tremendous challenge for parents and their children dealing with these issues.  In all these horizontal identities there is the need to relate to others in the same group and often a struggle between that identity and the traditional family.

What struck me most was how parents embraced and accepted the identity of their children.  There are the usual steps of "grief" experienced; shock, denial, anger, depression, acceptance and with that acceptance comes an embrace of the special uniqueness of their child.  In many instances, parents become activists and advocate for the needs of their children.

Don't all parents do this?  Don't we all sacrifice for our children?  And is that sacrifice ingrained or chosen?  The remarkable way that families dealing with the challenge of each of these groups cope, embrace and yes, even celebrate the differences, is inspiring and encourages reflection.  Their children grow up to see their illness or difference as a definition of who they are and embrace that identity.

It is a long and challenging read because the writing style is rambling.  At least a quarter of the book could be left out and  the readability improved by adding structure and conclusions to each chapter. Food for thought, but an overly rich serving.

Published:  2012  Read: June 2017  Genre: Sociology

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