Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree is a remarkable achievement. It is a book that is beautifully written, but hard to read. That paradox stems from the quality of the prose, from the depth of the research that underpins it, and fundamentally from the painful realities that are its focus. Solomon vividly renders the hardship, the suffering, and the wrenching challenges that confront parents whose children are exceptional: born with deafness or dwarfism; diagnosed with autism or schizophrenia; children whose gender identity does not correspond to their physical characteristics; or those who commit crimes or kill, who are conceived in rape, or are born with Down’s syndrome; even those who are musically gifted to an unfathomable degree. Sympathetic but unsparing, never romanticizing his subjects but alive to the remarkable ways some manage to cope with what most of us would regard as overwhelming difficulties, Solomon has written a book that lives long in the memory.
The most memorable books I read this year, Andrew Solomon’s poignant treatise Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (Chatto) and Donna Tartt’s mesmerizing (and critically polarizing) novel The Goldfinch (Little, Brown) were in a class of their own. There were many deserving books that got less attention in 2013 (and some undeserving ones, in my view, that got much more), but these two stood out for their ambition, originality, and nerve. Granted, Solomon and Tartt haven’t gone unnoticed or neglected, but nobody’s perfect, and their books have stayed vivid in my mind as other narratives have faded and paled. Unflinchingly telling painful stories, with boundless compassion for parents and children facing extreme difference, damage, and loss, both celebrate survivors and survival. In Tartt’s words about life and writing, “cruelly as the game is stacked . . . it’s possible to play it with a kind of joy”.
(To read the full article, please visit the Times Literary Supplement website.)