A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love

eBook - 2019
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A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR according to Elle, Real Simple, and Kirkus Reviews

"Memoir gold: a profound and exquisitely rendered exploration of identity and the true meaning of family." —People Magazine
"Beautifully written and deeply moving—it brought me to tears more than once."—Ruth Franklin, The New York Times Book Review

From the acclaimed, best-selling memoirist, novelist—"a writer of rare talent" (Cheryl Strayed)— and host of the hit podcast Family Secrets, comes a memoir about the staggering family secret uncovered by a genealogy test: an exploration of the urgent ethical questions surrounding fertility treatments and DNA testing, and a profound inquiry of paternity, identity, and love.
What makes us who we are? What combination of memory, history, biology, experience, and that ineffable thing called the soul defines us?
In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had whimsically submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her father was not her biological father. She woke up one morning and her entire history—the life she had lived—crumbled beneath her.
Inheritance is a book about secrets—secrets within families, kept out of shame or self-protectiveness; secrets we keep from one another in the name of love. It is the story of a woman's urgent quest to unlock the story of her own identity, a story that has been scrupulously hidden from her for more than fifty years, years she had spent writing brilliantly, and compulsively, on themes of identity and family history. It is a book about the extraordinary moment we live in—a moment in which science and technology have outpaced not only medical ethics but also the capacities of the human heart to contend with the consequences of what we discover.
Published: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group


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Sep 30, 2020

Growing up blond and blue-eyed in a Jewish family, Dani Shapiro had always been regarded as little bit different, but she never really stopped to give that feeling any serious thought until adulthood, when a DNA test revealed that her father was not actually her biological father. This is Dani's journey of not only discovering her true ancestry but also reconciling the circumstances of her birth and her relationships with her parents.

Surprisingly, this was the third book with a theme of 'discovering one's true parentage' that I've read in the last three months, completely unintentionally (if interested, the other two were 'Oleander Girl' and 'The Bride Test'). As an amateur genealogist myself I found it captivating as Dani unearthed clues and missing pieces to her puzzle, and overall I found the book nearly impossible to put down. Highly recommended.

Aug 16, 2020

Being a fan of genealogy, I found this book fascinating. Based on the author’s own experience of discovering she had been conceived using a sperm donor, it evolves against the backdrop of her Jewish background. Much of this story conjures up many ethical questions, especially in this day and age of and DNA testing. Some critics on this site seem to think that Ms. Shapiro is looking for sympathy but I do not believe this was her purpose in writing this book. It was to show the implications of sperm donations and the secrecy that can surround it. She also questions the possibility of a multiple donor can have several off-spring all over the place. This book reads easily and quickly. A good book club choice.

Jun 24, 2020

I doubt there is anyone more self-indulgent and less self-aware than Dani Shapiro. I was horrified that she immediately contacted a stranger without giving any thought to the possible damage she could be doing to him and his family. She was all me, me, me. I read enough to know that her biological father and his wife showed more grace and compassion than she had any right to expect or deserved.

She might want to examine her continued hatred for and inability to forgive and understand her mother who has been dead for 15 years.

Jun 22, 2020

As a lark, Dani and her husband take a test offered by Ancestry that millions of others have taken. Spit into a test tube and a few weeks later find out more about your roots. But for Dani, when the results come back, it is mind blowing. They had to be wrong, she was totally Jewish, she spoke Hebrew, kept a Kosher household, and yet while she was fifty percent Jewish, she is also a combination of other nationalities. How could this be? There had to be a mistake, but after checking, there was no mistake. What it meant was that her beloved father was not really her father and out there somewhere was a man who was her biological father.

As Dani comes to grips with the information, she embarks on a journey to find her biological father, using initially a clue provided by Ancestry. Through searches, questions to relatives who were still alive, Dani traces her father. How will he react now that he has a family of his own? How will Dani comes to terms with the fact that she is a "test tube" baby, she has half siblings, and all that she held most dear is crumbling around her?

This was an absolutely fascinating story, one that ensnared me from the start.

Jan 08, 2020

Interesting wanted to learn more

Nov 20, 2019

A decent, quick read on a subject of great interest to me. I've used two different DNA test kits with a preference to Ancestry and Family for free record searches. Were my foundations so rocked as this account I'd be bewildered also. I especially liked the numerous explanations & referrals to the Jewish history, practices, word meanings. I liked how she used the search elements and logic to the conclusion.

This author throws lots of messages (IMO) dealing with status, class, abilities that are totally foreign to me, which I felt were a bit too close to privilege or trying to impress. I don't give a fig for this information, was not impressed with that aspect. Just my view or perception. I also found this story repetitive and doubt I'd read any more of this author.

The recent (past 7 years) explosion in DNA searches along with more forthcoming documentaries on sperm donors, has opened the proverbial Pandora's Box. Many who hoped for privacy in such matters may be disturbed. In some cases it's comedic drama like the TV production of Almost Family, which can have devastating results. The need for an individual hereditary medical info is understandably necessary, therefore it's not just donors but absent parent history - male or female. in this case history it turned out beneficial.

Nov 05, 2019

What happens when the very foundation of who you think you are is shattered to the core? Raised as an Orthodox Jew, secure in the love of the man she knew as her father, Dani is at first slightly baffled by some unexpected results in her DNA test. Her quest to find out the truth leads her into the secretive, scattered world of fertility practices in the early 1960s, with certain faded memories and remembered offhand comments from her parents suddenly cast in new light. As Dani learns more about where and from whom she came, it calls into question the very essence of her identity.

Oct 15, 2019

A powerful and moving memoir that takes a deep dive into the world of reproductive technology. Dani is 54 and discovers through DNA testing that a man she has never met is actually her bio dad. The father she grew up with is technically her social dad.

"I had spent all my life writing my way through darkness like a miner in a cave until I spit into a plastic vial and the lights blinked on."

This discovery sends her life into a tailspin and she has chosen to share the intimate details of her journey in this book.

"Now, I was in a crisis of the soul. If I didn't know how to locate myself--in the roots of my history, in the geography that had formed me--how was I supposed to make sense of the rest of my life?"

Because Dani and I are the same age, I found that reading this book prompted reflection on my own heritage. As Dani explores the circumstances of her conception, she is reminded by an aunt that she is not an "accident of history." None of us are. This is closely tied to a conversation she has with the founder of the California Cryobank and asks him how many potential souls are stored at his facility.

This is most certainly a book with a timely message. The many ways people can access DNA testing are colliding with the anonymity promised in the past to sperm donors. This book showcases a situation where the parties involved found a compassionate way to move forward with love. Inspiring and thought-provoking!

Sep 30, 2019

Chapter 25 and Chapter 30 - will have most relevance to anyone, who feels a need for the cultural assurance that they are "enough" to be called--in this case-- Jewish. After all, we're all "mixed." Families are complicated. Shapiro is a great writer, but as other comments here indicate - it may be hard to fathom her crisis of identity as it pertains to faith. Great book for a lively discussion.

Sep 04, 2019

(Review Not on Blog)

I am probably in the minority with this one, but I could not get into this memoir. I didn't feel any connection with Dani. I didn't relate, like or feel invested in the outcome of her story. I did finish it, but there was moments I missed of the audiobook, and I did not rewind it. I was really interested in this story when I heard her on a podcast, and the subject matter was really interesting. I had recently seen a 20/20 episode of someone doing a paternity test and found out the doctor had injected his own sperm instead of the chosen sperm donor. Now with DNA tests for genealogy being so readily available, it will be interesting (and heartbreaking in some cases) to see what is uncovered.

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