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This Book Will Change Your Life

by Christopher Bryant

The Green Carnation Prize was founded in 2010, and this year I was one of its five judges. The first book I read for the prize was back in February. As the titles stacked ever higher and higher I wondered how five people possibly could, from such diverse and first-rate submissions, agree upon a winner. In August I started to read Andrew Solomon’s Far From The Tree. I had recently finished the shortlisted 1003 page title The Kills, by Richard House, and so the thought of a 700 page work of non-fiction about children who had fallen far from the tree – whether that meant they had been born deaf, or developed schizophrenia – made me apprehensive. Yet within the first 10 pages I knew I was reading the book that would win the 2013 prize.

…It was interesting, and wonderful, to witness what happened to each of the judges as they read the book. “To describe a book as ‘life changing’ is a grand phrase. But in this instance it is justified,” wrote Clayton Littlewood. “Chapter after chapter, the reader is drawn into the lives of parents with children who are often ignored or, in years gone by, treated with suspicion and scorn. However, the bravery and sheer determination of these families who have carved out their own cultures, and sometimes cultures within cultures, is humbling. Solomon successfully shows us that difference is life enhancing. And my life has definitely been enhanced by reading his book.”

That feeling of reading a work both life-changing and life-enhancing was felt keenly by each and every one of us. “In the way that the best literature does,” Kerry Hudson observed, “Far From The Tree gives access to different worlds and in doing so will change the way you look at things forever. It informs, inspires, moves and entertains. It is the sort of book that makes you grateful to have found it and that remains a gift for a lifetime.” “In its celebration of diversity and the exploration of identity, Far From The Tree encompasses the values at the heart of the Green Carnation Prize,” Sarah Henshaw noted. “Monumental in every sense of the word, its research, ideas, expression and humanity demand recognition. Not for a long time has a book so moved and challenged me.” And as Uli Lenart concluded, it was “life affirming, insightful and profoundly moving. Andrew Solomon continuously makes you reassess what you think. An opus of diversity, resilience and acceptance; Far From The Tree is a book that has the power to make the World a better place.”

(To read the full review, please visit Polari Magazine.)