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Root and Branch


Discussed in this essay:

Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, by Andrew Solomon. Scribner. 976 pages. $37.50.

Sixteen or so years ago, after it became apparent that neither nature nor medicine would provide my wife and me with a child, we turned to bureaucracy. Social workers vetted us and took our money. After a wait of (as it turned out) almost exactly nine months, and on a couple days’ notice, they delivered into our arms an infant boy. Save for a brief, fraught meeting in a roadside café, we and his birth mother knew each other only as dossiers carefully assembled under the tutelage of the social workers. As much as we might have wanted to, neither party could peer into the mouth of this gift horse to count its teeth or swab its cheek for DNA, to assure ourselves that the person we’d turned to in our mutual need was right for the job.

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is the author, most recently, of The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry (Blue Rider Press). His last article for Harper’s Magazine, “Apocalypse, Now What?,” appeared in the September 2011 issue.

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