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.
Inheritance is Dani Shapiro at her best: a gripping genetic detective story, and a meditation on the meaning of parenthood and family. It raises profound questions about the quandaries and responsibilities engendered by our newfound ability to know what—and whom—we are made of.
What do we inherit and how, and why? Dani Shapiro posits what sits at the root of ALL our existences. Her magnificent journey of selfhood, arduous and awakening, makes our communal reflection in the mirror deeper and continually delving.
With Inheritance, Dani Shapiro tells a startling story of origins—their deep reach and their lasting reverberations. This book reads like a beautiful, lived novel, moving and personal and true.
When Dani Shapiro discovers, purely by accident, that the father who raised her was not her biological father, she embarks upon a profound journey of understanding. What is ancestry? What is identity? Inheritance is a compulsively-readable investigation into selfhood that burrows to the heart of what it means to accept, to love, and to belong.
Identity is frail business, and in her searing story, Dani Shapiro makes the most disquieting discovery: that everything, from her lineage, to her father, down to her very own sense of self is an astounding error. How do we live with ourselves after finding we are not who we thought we were? The answer is not disquieting. It is beautiful.
Inheritance is an extraordinary memoir that speaks to themes as current as today’s headlines and as old as human history. With unflinching curiosity and candor, Dani Shapiro explores the mystery of her own lineage as she questions the notion of lineage itself: What makes a father a father? And how are we shaped by our family lore? This beautifully crafted book is full of wisdom and heart, showing that what we don’t know about our parents may not be as important as what we do.
[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.
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.
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.
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.
In prose as clear as a bell, Inheritance addresses the impact of nature versus nurture, as well as ethical dilemmas of which we have barely began to scratch the surface… it is superb storytelling like Shapiro’s that allows readers to grasp the profound human implications of rapid advances in the fields of fertility and genealogy.
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.
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.
Inheritance is so much more than a memoir. In telling the story of her paternity, Shapiro combines elements of a mystery with a philosophical inquiry into the deepest nature of identity.
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.
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.