| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Dec 27 In his latest book "Far From
the Tree," National Book Award winner Andrew Solomon turns the
conventional wisdom that children are composites of their
parents on its head, but says that is not a bad thing.
In the 700-page tome that explores the lives of families
with children with conditions ranging from autism to deafness,
Solomon says having a child is an act of production rather than
reproduction that "abruptly catapults us into a permanent
relationship with a stranger."
Though the book focuses on how families cope with more
extreme forms of difference, Solomon, 49, believes that
encountering unexpected traits in one's child is a universal
part of parenthood.
"I have yet to meet anyone as a parent who has not from time
to time looked at their child and said, 'Where did you come
from?'" he said in an interview.
The book seems to have struck a chord. "Far From the Tree"
is a top selling book and has garnered praise from critics.
Writing for The New Yorker, Nathan Heller called it "a
careful, subtle, and surprising book," while the New York Times
Book Review wrote, "This is a book that shoots arrow after arrow
into your heart."
The book, which includes 10 years' worth of interviews with
families and relevant research, is divided into chapters that
are devoted to conditions such as dwarfism, transgender and
Solomon said what unites the diverse collection of
conditions covered in his book is that each one often results in
isolation for the child and confusion and resentment for
"Intellectually, the difficult part was trying to understand
the ways in which these very differences had something in
common, and coming up with the underlying idea of the book,
which is that these individual differences are isolating, but
taken together they're unifying," he said.
Solomon uses his own experience growing up as a dyslexic
homosexual, two qualities that set him apart from his parents
and were viewed as flaws by most, to frame the travails of the
families in his book. He cautions against viewing the conditions
he writes about solely as problems that need to be fixed or
"We have to recognize that this thing (homosexuality) so
universally described as an illness just 50 years ago could now
largely be accepted as an identity ... We should be awake to the
idea that what seems obviously to be an illness today may seem
very different 50 years from now," he said.
Solomon noted the strong deaf culture that has grown among
deaf people, and predicted that transgendered people and
high-functioning autistic people would both gain increased
acceptance over the next several decades.
Regardless of whether a trait is viewed as an illness or an
identity, he believes that the goal should be to improve the
life conditions and minimize suffering for the types of families
featured in "Far From the Tree."
Solomon said the happiest families he interviewed were ones
that were able to move past anger and frustration about their
child's condition to accept their child and find meaning in
"The families that had looked at these experiences and
acknowledged how unbelievably difficult they are and how painful
they can be but nonetheless have found meaning of the experience
were the ones that were doing better," he said.
"I was amazed by the way that for many of these families
that experiencing difficulty had intensified rather than
undermined parental love."
(Reporting By Andrea Burzynski; editing by Patricia Reaney and