Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro
Read by Dani Shapiro
Published January 2019 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had casually submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her beloved deceased father was not her biological father. Over the course of a single day, her entire history—the life she had lived—crumbled beneath her.

Inheritance is a book about secrets. It is the story of a woman's urgent quest to unlock the story of her own identity, a story that had been scrupulously hidden from her for more than fifty years. 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.

Dani Shapiro’s memoir unfolds at a breakneck pace—part mystery, part real-time investigation, part rumination on the ineffable combination of memory, history, biology, and experience that makes us who we are. Inheritance is a devastating and haunting interrogation of the meaning of kinship and identity, written with stunning intensity and precision.

My Thoughts:
Can you possibly imagine being 54 years old and finding out that you aren't who you thought you were?

Raised as an Orthodox Jew and incredible proud of her paternal family's history, as a pale, blue-eyed blonde, Shapiro grew up feeling like she was looking for something. But even when she found out that she had no biological link to her half-sister, her father's daughter from a previous marriage, Shapiro still couldn't accept that she didn't look like her beloved Shapiros because she wasn't, biologically speaking, one of them. But a random conversation between her mother and one of Shapiro's friends years prior, suddenly made sense to Shapiro.

Her mother had admitted then that Shapiro had been conceived in Philadelphia but Shapiro had never been able to get anything more out of her mother. Suddenly Shapiro understood that her parents' fertility problem had pushed them to seek medical help at the Farris Institute for Parenthood. But Shapiro couldn't just go to the Institute for answers; it had been shut down a number of years earlier.

Because of this, Shapiro launched herself into research into artificial insemination and she spends a good part of this book looking at the ethical and legal ramifications of artificial insemination. But Shapiro was less worried about the ethical issues when it came to finding out more about where she came from. She found herself desperate to form some kind of relationship with the man who she discovered donated the sperm that resulted in her existence. Which, of course, brings up the question of what obligation he had to her. He had had not expectation, for more than 50 years, that he would ever be faced with contact from a child who resulted from his anonymous donation.

Meanwhile Shapiro was struggling with how she should feel about her parents. What did they know about her not being her father's daughter, or at the very least the chance that he might not be her biological father? Answers to that question where harder to find. Further, Shapiro agonized over feeling fatherless. If the man she had thought was her father was not her biological father and the man who was didn't want a connection with her, where did that leave her?

I found this book interesting on so many levels - the science, the ethics, the idea of what makes a family - but what really drew me in and held my interest was the personal story. I was a daddy's girl growing up and I can't imagine, at nearly the same age as Shapiro was when she found out about her paternity, finding out that he was not my biological father. In the end, I think I'd land exactly where Shapiro landed - the man who raised her, who she adored, he was her father.


  1. I listened to this book and loved it!

    1. It really did feel like she was just talking to you, telling you her story, didn't it?

  2. This has been on my list for awhile. I need to dive in!