Inheritance by Dani Shapiro


Dani Shapiro

In 2016, through a genealogy website, Dani Shapiro received the news that her father was not her biological father. Timely and unforgettable, Dani Shapiro’s memoir is a gripping, gut-wrenching exploration of genealogy, paternity, and love.

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The acclaimed and beloved author of Hourglass now gives us a new memoir about identity, paternity, and family secrets--a real-time exploration of the staggering discovery she recently made about her father, and her struggle to piece together the hidden story of her own life.

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.
     Timely and unforgettable, Dani Shapiro's memoir is a gripping, gut-wrenching exploration of genealogy, paternity, and love.

Advance Galley Reviews

Dani Shapiro discovered a family secret that fractured her sense of personal identity to the bedrock. In this memoir, she walks through the discovery process--which is fascinating and timely, involving social media and DNA websites--and also the aftermath, the weaving of a new narrative and a new peace. Her writing voice is insightful yet personable, and I found this one of the more unputdownable (even though quiet) reads I've had in awhile. I can't wait to get my hands on her backlist! Thanks to the Penguins First Reads program for a digital ARC!

It is a testament to Shapiro's writing that I found myself continuing to read even on nights when I was too tired to think. My experience with memoirs that are written during or shortly after a life-changing event is that they can feel muddled, often as if the author has not processed his/her feelings before sharing them. However, this is not the case with Inheritance. Shapiro wrote her memoir in her mid-50s as she was going through the process of discovering that her deceased father had not been her biological father. There is an immediacy and a tautness to her book that allows the reader to share in her experiences and feelings. While Shapiro very briefly touches on the history of artificial insemination, genetics, and ethics, this is mostly a very personal and touching account of having her life turned upside down and inside out. There are a range of questions and emotions she grapples with after finding out that she is only half-Jewish despite being raised in an Orthodox family, and of coming to terms with the fact that most of the major "players" involved in her story have passed away. The end of the book is a bit abrupt and I found myself wanting an epilogue, however, this is a fascinating and compelling memoir.

In the age of mail-in DNA testing kits, it's actually surprising that I had not thought about a consequence such as the one Dani Shapiro encountered after sending her test to The repercussions of sperm donation and artificial insemination, processes on the forefront of scientific technology at that time, crashing into the DIY genetic testing available to us today posses some very intriguing and thought-provoking questions about medical ethics, morality, and standards. Inheritance: A Memoir delves into what happens after discovering the man you knew as your father your entire life turns out to not be biologically related. For someone like Shapiro who never felt fully accepted into her Jewish pedigree finding out there's a reason for feeling other sends her on a rollercoaster of emotions from denial to curiosity to acceptance. This memoir is her journey to find the answers to a question that threw her life upside down: who am I? Shapiro writes an engaging story; however, I did find certain phrases and passages used repetitively throughout. In many ways each chapter reads as a standalone, which I can foresee being parsed for essays in magazine. Given her background as an essayist, this format and writing style makes a lot of sense. I read this book quickly more for the ending and less because of the captivating prose. There was always a distance between the author and her story. I never felt like her soul was laid bare like she intended. I can't say I'd recommend this book as a personal memoir, but if genealogy or medical ethics interests you even a little, then I highly recommend this book.

I want to give my thanks for the First to Read program by Penguin Random House for giving me an advanced reader’s copy of Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro in exchange for an honest review. “Once we’re past all our many labels and notions of what makes us who we think we are, we will discover that there is no I—no us.” “What never fails to draw me in, however, are secrets. Secrets within families. Secrets we keep out of shame, or self-protectiveness, or denial. Secrets and their corrosive powers. Secrets we keep from one another in the name of love.” Imagine discovering that your entire identity rested on a false narrative. That people you love may not be connected in the way you have always known. Inheritance by Dani Shapiro presents a moving representation of personal identity and how both social and biological factors influence this. In this memoir, Shapiro discovers through a simple Ancestry test, that she is not biologically related to her father. Having learned this, Shapiro works to try to understand her origins and her parent’s motives, as well as connect with the biological father that she was never aware of having. First off, I am somewhat familiar with this topic of family stories not matching the record or genealogical evidence. While working on my MSLIS degree, I worked on networking with local historians and genealogists and heard stories about how their research occasionally wandered into unexpected trajectories. (For example, someone had discovered an uncle that was adopted because of genetic tests.) Mostly, my biases are based on research about people of the distant past and not of contemporaneous circumstances such as twentieth-century medical science beyond the occasional Ancestry or similar DNA test. Reading Shapiro’s struggles presented an entirely new era of complications that I have never considered. As the interest in genealogy increases with the aging American population shows, this topic may become even more common. Shapiro had a way of really capturing the emotional difficulties that she experienced throughout this short journey. From the biased eugenics of the medical establishment of the time to the email correspondence with her biological father and the reinterpretation of the motives of her deceased parents. Shapiro showed how personal identity is very much about fluidity and change. As Shapiro states: “all of us are accidents of history or none of us are. One sperm, one egg, one moment. An interruption—a ringing phone, a knock on the door, a flashlight through the car window—a single second one way or the other and the result would be an entirely different human being. Mine was just more complicated, an accident involving vials, syringes, contracts, and secrets.” This memoir incredibly moved me, and I plan to would love to read more in the future. It gave me pause to think about how even details set in stone can often crumble into something new that can be both strange and beautiful. That we cannot ever fully understand the motives of our ancestors but that we can try to connect with them the best we can. That this connection both informs and creates us, even if it is not always a clear message. As Shapiro states at the end, she will always seek out her (social) father wherever she goes. That: “Moses found his voice and said to God at the burning bush. And I say it to my father, again and again. Hinemi. I am here. All of me.”

Thank you for the advance copy of this e-galley. This memoir tells the story of a woman’s discovery that her biological father is not who she grew up thinking he was. This lead to a lot of inner turmoil that I had difficulty sympathizing with. She loved the father that raised her, she wasn’t a product of an affair, and she is a successful, happily married mother. It felt like she was making a bigger deal out of her discovery than was called for. There were interesting parts especially the Jewish culture and the in vitro fertilization in the early years when the consequences and ethics of what was taking place weren’t considered until it was too late. Enjoyable but forgettable read.

Thank you to First to Read for ARC of “Inheritance” by Dani Shapiro.This is my first time reading Shapiro.She is an excellent story teller.She had been raised as an only child with parents who had challenges and specific beliefs. She discovers a family secret that upends her long held truths.The two most important people that can provide answers to the many questions she has , are dead. She persists to find answers and is incredibly lucky in her search. The deep seeded feelings can’t really be resolved but she creates how she came to be through her fact finding and knowledge of her parents. She was incredibly lucky to find some of the answers and she has a support system that assists through her journey. My initial thoughts after finishing the book was of how lucky she was to gain access to the truth. It also made me think of living in the world with privilege . This circumstance gives you the bearing that nothing is impossible ... through wealth, connections, education or whatever... I felt bad that I wasn’t feeling her outrage. It seemed as if she was judging her parents through an unrealistic time and cultural prism. She does seem to resolve feelings toward her father but her mother never seems to receive the same forgiveness.This makes me want to look at her past writings to learn more about that. Good read!

I'm having some technical trouble accessing this title, and after several unsuccessful attempts to seek help from the team at First to Read, I have since given up. It's a shame, because I like Dani Shapiro's work, and I was very much looking forward to reading and reviewing her latest book. Alas, my pleas for help seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

I have to confess that I was hooked by "genealogy" in the subtitle, and not as much by the "paternity and love." But I did read every word, and these days, I skip anything that isn't keeping my interest. I enjoyed learning how Dani Shapiro and her husband Michael, a journalist, tracked down Dani's biological father after Dani took a DNA test that came up with surprising results. On the other hand, I sometimes became exasperated with Dani's melodrama when it came to how this would change her life. As a woman in her fifties, Dani is pretty much who she is already and while it's certainly understandable that she would want to know how her surprise paternity came to be, it's hardy likely to make her a different person. In any case, the story unfolds nicely as a true life mystery and everything works out pretty well in the end, which left me feeling upbeat about the book.

Inheritance, the latest memoir by Shapiro, is quite poignant. I have read all of her memoirs, but this one was very moving. In her mid 50s, due to a DNA test, she discovers her beloved father is not her biological father. As Dani delved deeper into the mystery she faced many questions and apprehensive feelings. Finding her biological father took only a short time and through the Internet she connected with him and his family. It's a roller coaster ride of emotions, but ultimately Shapiro makes peace with it all.

Inheritance is a memoir by Dani Shapiro, detailing her discovery, in her 50’s, of the secret of her conception and her emotional journey to come to terms with the biological father and social father who shaped her. When she discovers as a result of a commercial DNA test that her father, the man who raised her until his death in her 20’s, is not her biological father, she searches for and finds her biological father, and discovers how her parents, having difficulty conceiving on their own, turn to a fertility institute to conceive their child. What Ms Shapiro discovers about this clinic, and about the state of artificial insemination at the time; how she relates to her new-found bio father, and how she is able to better understand her social father; all these make up the meat of this thoughtful and engaging memoir of inheritance.

As genetic genealogy tests such as those offered by become more popular, people are learning surprising things about their families. The most surprising, and potentially devastating, is what genealogists term a "non-paternal event," or NPE. That means that the person you thought was your biological father turns out not to be, and it's hard to imagine what that must feel like. "Inheritance" by Dani Shapiro gave me insight into and empathy towards the emotional turmoil that such a discovery can cause. This isn't the first book I've read on the topic of "who's my daddy?", but it's definitely the best written I've read so far. Dani Shapiro writes powerfully of her feelings when she learned that the father who raised her, and who she adored, was not the source of half of her DNA. Her search for her biological father and for the truth about how she was conceived - and what her parents knew or didn't know about the "fertility treatments" that led to her birth - are a real page turner, as are the ethical and religious issues that are raised by reproductive technology and easy/cheap genealogical testing. It's not just a story for genealogy buffs, it's a story for anyone human. Highly recommended.

I couldn't put this book down once I started. Dani's journey through the maze of science, history, religious beliefs and her emotional turmoil was so gripping, I learned a lot bout the easy days of AI and the potential pitfalls the are never considered but are so real today. This reminded me of an old Oprah show where 23 children were fathered with the same donor's sperm. Can you imagine if they didn't track each other down? Dani was very emotional about her discoveries and journey and felt the this process was overturning everything she knew about her upbringing. I sympathized with this, but I do feel that Nature plays a huge role in our upbringing. Her father loved her and raised her well, whether he knew he was the bio dad or not. The future as she tries to reach out to the bio dad will be enlightening for her as well. The writing style was entrancing and I finished the book in 2 sittings, Thanks!>

Dani Shapiro’s Inheritance is the memorializing of pieces of one woman’s life before and life after the findings discovered from a DNA analysis. Dani’s writing is prosaic, emotional, heart-felt and easy to follow. The DNA analysis threw Dani into an understandable emotional turmoil over the fact that her parents never related to her that she was conceived through artificial insemination. Her response is reasonable, even somewhat angry at her parents. HOWEVER, this emotional turmoil/disbelief over the secrecy of her parents is repeatedly reviewed to the point of, “Oh, no, not again!” This was the most frustrating part of the Inheritance, this one area of repetition, especially since the findings that the father that raised Dani, was NOT her biological one, verifying her feeling of being a puzzle piece out of place in her family. Finding out that she had a biological father, FINDING that biological father and meeting her biological family is well presented in the book—if one overlooks the repetition stated prior. Dani’s family and the family of her biological father began a journey in Inheritance. She appears to be expanding her self-confidence and self-awareness with the addition of sharing with people who have common DNA, mannerisms, and body resemblances; opening up a new world of insights, growth, and new stories to compile.

I chose this book to read, hoping I would learn something about DNA testing that I didn't know. I learned about Artificial Insemination during mid-century America. I had no idea that doctors and interns donated sperm that was mixed with the sperm of the male wanting to have a child, and that over fifty thousand children conceived this way are searching for their biological father. There is even a website for them! Dani Shapiro was lucky. Through meticulous research, she found her biological father. The book is mainly about her journey to figure out what her new father means to her and she re-examines her relationship with the father who raised her, who raised her as an Orthodox Jew! According to Jewish law, artificial insemination was considered an abomination. Shapiro wanted to figure out how her devout father could have agreed to this. She thinks she puts it together, but she will never know exactly what happened. Shapiro now waits to see if she has other half-siblings who may turn up on The one question she does not pose is what if half siblings, unknowingly marry. If there are thousands of people who have no idea of their paternity in America, this very well could happen. I found myself connecting personally with this book, as I found relatives on that have brought my mother's history to me that was completely unknown. It was a very grounding and wonderful experience. As with Shapiro, I have the same experience of parents keeping secrets, out of shame and love. It was an extremely emotional experience finding my people, and I believe if you have not had the experience of discovering your background, as we both did later in life, it might be difficult to relate to this book. Shapiro comes across at times as narcissistic just because the emotion was so relentless throughout the book, and that was definitely annoying. However, I loved how Shapiro weaved her Jewish faith throughout the book. It really is for me what saved this book. That aspect of it was so touchingly beautiful, and I'm glad that she claimed the man who raised her as her real daddy and not the sperm donor. Anyone can donate sperm, but to raise a child with love, not everyone can do that. That's what really matters. The book is a quick read. I think, shortening it and turning it into an article for a magazine like the New Yorker, would be more appropriate.

This is a fascinating story. I can see that it must have been an overwhelmingly difficult experience for the author but it is almost like a whodunnit to read. I have read the author’s previous book, Hourglass, which was very interesting and I plan to go back and read some of her earlier work.

Wow! What a book - What a story! This is one of the best books I've read in a long while. It reads like a novel and it is quite a page turner and made all the more poignant knowing it's true. A new topic to be explored and thought about in the age of DNA testing. Thank you so much for the chance to be "first to read"! I'm buying the book anyway! Dani Shapiro - this is my favorite!

***Thanks to First to Read for providing me a complimentary copy of INHERITANCE: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love in exchange for my honest review.*** INHERITANCE: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love is the story of a middle-aged woman, writer Dani Shapiro, who learns her father is not her biological father and her journey to seeing how she fits into her life. I never connected to Shapiro or her story, although I’ve read and enjoyed her books previously. If INHERITANCE were fiction, chances are Shapiro would have written an entirely different plot, with more plot and less introspection. Her word building is gorgeous, but I didn’t enjoy the book one bit. I found myself skimming, not interested in her thoughts and feelings, which isn’t what I wanted out of the story. I wanted to feel her heartbreak, confusion and pain, but did not. INHERITANCE is probably a case of it’s not you, it’s me, so read other reviews before deciding.


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