the beautiful diversities
Last night I finished reading Andrew Solomon’s marvelous Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. How to describe this book? That it takes the reader on a strange and unexpected journey to the heart of what it is to be human — that’s a start. There are twelve chapters and when I began the book, I wondered at the two which bracket the others. Solomon begins with “Son”, proceeds to “Deaf”, “Dwarfs”, “Down Syndrome”, “Autism”, Schizophrenia”, “Disability”, “Prodigies”, “Rape”, “Crime”, “Transgender”, and concludes with “Father”. Using sound science (and its cousins, quackery and superstition), hearsay, anecdote, extended interviews, and personal history, this intelligent and quirky author investigates the muliplicity of codes — DNA, heredity, nature, nuture, abuse, etc. — which shape human identity in its horizontal and vertical forms. It’s a testament to families in all the forms they take and the way they adjust (and don’t) to perceived difference. It’s an examination of diversity and what it brings to the wider human family and how advances in gene therapy and so forth have the potential to deprive us all of the richness of diversity. It’s a complex book with complex arguments but finally it’s so hopeful and optimistic about the resilience of the human spirit. When I put the book down, I realized why the author’s personal revelations about his difficulty in finding his own identity began the book and why his experience of fatherhood — creative, generous, innovative — is its perfect conclusion.