Dani Shapiro

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, 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.

[In] her engrossing, compassionate memoir…Shapiro is driven to reckon with questions of heritage, memory, and family that go beyond chromosomes and surnames…In the age of genetics and easy data, the great crisis of Greek drama has become pedestrian; we are all Oedipus, potentially. “How had I lived my life without being able to answer that first and most fundamental of all questions: Who am I?” Shapiro writes. There is no easy answer here; as in the best writing on the self, the point is the integrity of her search.

Shapiro’s account is beautifully written and deeply moving — it brought me to tears more than once.

The better the writer, the more unassailable the identity. This makes the identity crisis of Inheritance all the more precarious—and Shapiro’s presentation of it all the more remarkable…In various, subtly shifting forms and incurably readable prose, she has narrated the prime metaphysical subjects of adulthood, including marriage, spirituality, the deaths of parents, being a parent, aging, and how to put a shape on it all. She has an intimate, ruminating style, leaping associatively through time, addressing the reader not as an audience, or voyeur, but more as an interlocutor, thoughtfully answering the questions she thinks someone might ask, if they lived in her head.

Unsettling….a meditation on what it means to live in a time when secrecy, anonymity, and mystery are vanishing. [Inheritance] encapsulates an ethical quandary with which our society has yet to fully grapple.

As compulsively readable as a mystery novel, while exploring the deeper mysteries of identity and family and truth itself… a story told with great insight and honesty and heart.

Shapiro is skilled at spinning her personal explorations into narrative gold.

[A] swift moving narrative of profound personal disorientation. Just as you think you’ve crested the big reveal, Shapiro builds more tension, chapter by short chapter; she keeps you close as she feels her way through unfamiliar terrain.

The writing is that of a true storyteller who will not stop until she has bored down to the bottom of where she came from, and in this she is at her narrative best.

Inheritance zooms in on the blind spots that result when reproductive technology outpaces an understanding of its consequences. In viewing this important and timely topic through a highly personal lens, Inheritance succeeds admirably.

Inheritance offers a thought-provoking look at the shifting landscape of identity.

Written with generosity and honesty, Inheritance takes the modern phenomenon of casual DNA testing and builds a deeply personal narrative around it. The result is a vital, necessary read from a talented author.

[Inheritance is] memoir gold: a profound and exquisitely rendered exploration of identity and the true meaning of family.

- People Magazine

Inheritance explores Shapiro’s identity in relationship to her memory, family history, biology, and experience. And it essentially asks the question: What makes us who we are? It’s brilliant.

Moving and emotionally raw, Shapiro’s memoir opens out from a painful reassessment of her life to grapple with the ethics of reproductive medicine in the 1960s.

Inheritance is dedicated “to my father”. That she doesn’t say which one speaks volumes: those who like to insist that blood is always thicker than water should read her book, and let their own hearts slowly and gently expand.

Fascinating… Shapiro writes with poetic precision… and she knows how to tell a story. There is true narrative momentum to this tale.

- The Times London

Smart, psychologically astute, and not afraid to tell it like it is.

It’s a cautionary tale about a brave new world of technology that erases privacy, and a story about one of the oldest themes of human narrative: finding oneself.

Thoughtful and gripping… [Shapiro] absorbs each new fact with empathy and grace. A fascinating read by a gifted writer.

A poignant examination of identity and what happens when one’s wholeness and understanding of who they are is completely uprooted.

Inheritance reads like an introspective mystery as Shapiro sorts facts from fiction.

- Elle

Shapiro [writes] this spare, lyrical story shattering the polished portrait of her life and piecing the fragments carefully, gorgeously back together.

In Inheritance, Shapiro movingly reckons with identity and family secrets.

A fascinating, pertinent look into the murky world of medical ethics, as well as the kind of profound, insightful look into the meaning of love and connection that we’ve come to expect from Shapiro.

Shapiro unpacks a beautiful and heartbreaking narrative of paternity, genetics, and family.

As Shapiro deftly navigates the emotional story of her own origins, she also spins her grief, shock, and introspection into a compelling narrative that you won’t be able to put down.

Excellent prose aside, what makes Inheritance a great read is that it makes us consider the things we take for granted, and how a single moment can unravel them…. the book poses questions that are increasingly relevant in our everyday world.

Inheritance is both thrilling and fascinating—a nonfiction book that reads like a novel.

A remarkable, dogged, emotional journey as Shapiro digs into the past to find the truth.

Inheritance adds significantly to Shapiro’s body of work while plugging into some of our culture’s most pressing concerns – identity, technology and medical ethics, among others. Although her story is unique to her, it offers a way of thinking about our changing, uncertain times.

Shapiro is always an intellectual, analytical storyteller. The engaging way in which she renders the suspenseful details of this forthright, meaningful odyssey will keep readers totally enthralled.

Fascinating…This beautifully written, thought-provoking genealogical mystery will captivate readers from the very first pages.

For all the trauma that the discovery put her through, Shapiro recognizes that what she had experienced was a great story—one that has inspired her best book.

Page after page, Shapiro displays a disarming honesty and an acute desire to know the unknowable.

- Booklist (starred review)