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The Lives of Others

by Deborah Cohen

Far from the Tree is a big book and an important one. In ten chapters, dealing with the subjects of deafness, dwarfism, Down’s syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, disability, prodigies, children conceived through rape, children who commit crimes, and transgender children — framed by an autobiographical beginning and ending — Solomon investigates what it means for parents to love children who are different from themselves, and more broadly, the status of both disability and identity in contemporary society. At the heart of the book are interviews, some extending over a number of years, which Solomon conducted with more than three hundred families. The book is in addition a tour d’horizon of the literature (medical, psychological, sociological, anthropological, philosophical, activist) on each subject. It clocks in at over nine hundred pages for good reason.

There are so many apt, even aphoristic, sentences in the book that the trouble is choosing from among them… His is a subtle analysis, rich in perplexities, rooted in his interviews because “stories acknowledge chaos.”

Far from the Tree is a monumental and generous-hearted book, balanced between the universal and the particular, and gorgeously observed.

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