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Inheritance
Cover of Inheritance
Inheritance
A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love
An Instant NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A LOS ANGELES TIMES, BOSTON GLOBE, WALL STREET JOURNAL, and NATIONAL INDIE BESTSELLER
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.
An Instant NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A LOS ANGELES TIMES, BOSTON GLOBE, WALL STREET JOURNAL, and NATIONAL INDIE BESTSELLER
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.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book Excerpted from Inheritance

    Chapter 1

    When I was a girl I would sneak down the hall late at night once my parents were asleep. I would lock myself in the bathroom, climb onto the Formica counter, and get as close as possible to the mirror until I was nose to nose with my own reflection. This wasn’t an exercise in the simple self-absorption of child­hood. The stakes felt high. Who knows how long I kneeled there, staring into my own eyes. I was looking for something I couldn’t possibly have articulated—but I always knew it when I saw it. If I waited long enough, my face would begin to morph. I was eight, ten, thirteen. Cheeks, eyes, chin, and forehead—my features softened and shape-shifted until finally I was able to see another face, a different face, what seemed to me a truer face just beneath my own.



    Now it is early morning and I’m in a small hotel bathroom three thousand miles from home. I’m fifty-four years old, and it’s a long time since I was that girl. But here I am again, staring and staring at my reflection. A stranger stares back at me.

    The coordinates: I’m in San Francisco—Japantown, to be precise—just off a long flight. The facts: I’m a woman, a wife, a mother, a writer, a teacher. I’m a daughter. I blink. The stranger in the mirror blinks too. A daughter. Over the course of a single day and night, the familiar has vanished. Familiar: belonging to a family. On the other side of the thin wall I hear my husband crack open a newspaper. The floor seems to sway. Or perhaps it’s my body trembling. I don’t know what a nervous break­down would feel like, but I wonder if I’m having one. I trace my fingers across the planes of my cheekbones, down my neck, across my clavicle, as if to be certain I still exist. I’m hit by a wave of dizziness and grip the bathroom counter. In the weeks and months to come, I will become well acquainted with this sensation. It will come over me on street corners and curbs, in airports, train stations. I’ll take it as a sign to slow down. Take a breath. Feel the fact of my own body. You’re still you, I tell myself, again and again and again.



    Chapter 2

    Twenty-four hours earlier, I was in my home office trying to get organized for a trip to the West Coast when I heard Michael’s feet pounding up the stairs. It was ten-thirty in the evening, and we had to leave before dawn to get to the Hartford airport for an early flight. I had made a packing list. I’m a list maker, and there were a million things to do. Bras. Panties. Jeans skirt. Striped top. Sweater/jacket? (Check weather in SF.) I was good at reading the sound of my husband’s footsteps. These sounded urgent, though I couldn’t tell whether they were good urgent or bad urgent. Whatever it was, we didn’t have time for it. Skin stuff. Brush/comb. Headphones. He burst through my office door, open laptop in hand.

    “Susie sent her results,” he said.

    Susie was my much-older half sister, my father’s daughter from an early marriage. We weren’t close, and hadn’t spoken in a couple of years, but I had recently written to ask if she had ever done genetic testing. It was the kind of thing I had never even considered, but I had recalled Susie once mentioning that she wanted to know if she was at risk for any hereditary dis­eases. A New York City psychoanalyst, she had always been on the cutting edge of all things medical. My email had reached her at the TED conference in Banff. She had written back right...
About the Author-
  • DANI SHAPIRO is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir Inheritance, as well as Hourglass, Still Writing, Devotion, and Slow Motion and five novels including Black & White and Family History. Also an essayist and a journalist, Shapiro's short fiction, essays, and journalistic pieces have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, One Story, Elle, Vogue, O, The Oprah Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, the op-ed pages of the New York Times, and many other publications. She has taught in the writing programs at Columbia, NYU, the New School, and Wesleyan University; she is cofounder of the Sirenland Writers Conference in Positano, Italy. Shapiro is the host of the hit podcast, Family Secrets. She lives with her family in Litchfield County, Connecticut.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from October 8, 2018
    In this fascinating memoir, Shapiro (Hourglass) writes of how she questioned her identity when a DNA test revealed that she was not, as she believed she was, 100% Jewish. Shapiro grew up in an Orthodox family in suburban New Jersey; blonde-haired and blue-eyed, she often felt out of place in a family of dark-haired Ashkenazi Jews, yet she had shrugged off the physical differences. But when she got the DNA test results, the then-54-year-old began researching her family history, and within months she unraveled a narrative leading back to the 1960s and the early days of artificial insemination. Her own parents had died, but now, with the support of her husband and son, she discovered her biological father, a doctor from Portland. Shapiro realized that her childhood, her ancestral lineage, and the foundation of her world were based on deception. “What potent combination of lawlessness, secrecy, desire, shame, greed, and confusion had led to my conception?” Shapiro writes. With thoughtful candor, she explores the ethical questions surrounding sperm donation, the consequences of DNA testing, and the emotional impact of having an uprooted religious and ethnic identity. This beautifully written, thought-provoking genealogical mystery will captivate readers from the very first pages.

  • Kirkus

    October 15, 2018
    Before focusing on memoirs, Shapiro (Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage, 2017, etc.) drew from her family life in her fiction. In her latest, she delves into an origin story that puts everything she previously believed and wrote about herself in fresh perspective.The author's relationship with her mother was difficult. "My single best defense had always been that I was my father's daughter," she writes. "I was more my father's daughter. I had somehow convinced myself that I was only my father's daughter." Eventually, she learned that she wasn't her father's daughter at all, at least not in the way that she had initially understood. Through DNA testing to which she had only submitted because her husband had done so, Shapiro discovered that she shares none of hers with her father's side of the family and that the sperm that impregnated her mother had come from someone else. But who? The first half of the book trudges through a bit too much day-by-day detail, as the author becomes convinced that there's no way these results could have been mistaken. It is after she discovers who her real father is, or at least the sperm donor, that the narrative deepens and enriches our deeper understanding of paternity, genetics, and what were then called "test tube tots." Sperm donors had been guaranteed anonymity, and the man she contacted was initially resistant to upset the balance of his family dynamic because of his participation in the procedure decades earlier. Equally upsetting Shapiro was the issue of what her parents had believed, separately or together, about her parentage. Had they spent their lives as a family deceiving her, or had they also been deceived? Then there was the doctor whom they had consulted when they were having fertility issues, "an outlaw" whose credentials were shaky but whose results were impressive.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.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from November 1, 2018
    Imagine finding out, after 54 years, that your father is not your father. He may be the man who raised you and helped forge your identity by immersing you in his culture?in Shapiro's case, that of an Orthodox Jewish heritage that can be traced back for generations. He may be the one you turned to for emotional support through a confusing adolescence and confounding adulthood. But, as the modern technology of DNA tests confirm, he is not the man who actually sired you. For Shapiro, who adored her father and embraced her Jewish heritage proudly, the results were psychologically devastating and, as an acclaimed memoirist, too astonishing not to pursue. If I'm not my father's daughter, then who am I? With lightning speed and relentless determination, Shapiro tracks down the sperm donor who was her biological father and navigates an emotional and ethical minefield to create a relationship. The notion of identity, once so defined, suddenly becomes amorphous and untrustworthy. Shapiro's anguish over a flawed past is palpable; her anxiety regarding an indeterminate future is paralyzing. Page after page, Shapiro displays a disarming honesty and an acute desire to know the unknowable.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2018, American Library Association.)

  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2019

    Memoirist (Hourglass) and novelist (Family History) Shapiro was told her entire life that she was an Orthodox Jew and had no reason to think otherwise. Except the author didn't look like anyone else in her family and also felt that she didn't exactly belong. So when she takes a DNA test on a whim and learns that her father is not her biological father, it makes sense but also turns her world upside down. It's revealed that her parents sought help conceiving at a less-than-reputable fertility clinic in the 1960s, when little was known about artificial insemination. Shapiro meets with relatives, rabbis, her biological father, and anyone else who might help her understand this. But what she really wants to know is how her parents could let this happen and if they realized how it would impact her life. Shapiro has written several memoirs on family (Still Writing, Devotion), and this latest is fast-paced, easy to read, and ultimately seeks answers to the questions of, who am I, why am I here, and how shall I live? All have something to do with love. VERDICT A fascinating read for memoir fans and anyone curious about how DNA tests could impact one's life.--Kristin Joy Anderson, Lewis Univ. Lib., Romeoville, IL

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2019

    The author of distinguished fiction but perhaps best known for her memoirs (most recently Hourglass), Shapiro surprises us again with her latest meditation. In a goofy mood in spring 2016, she submitted her DNA to a website for analysis and discovered that her father was not her biological father. What results is an exploration of family secrets, a painful rebuilding of her sense of self, and an understanding of how we manage whatever life tosses our way.

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Alexandra Schwartz, The New Yorker "[An] engrossing, compassionate memoir.... As in the best writing on the self, the point is the integrity of her search."
  • Oprah Magazine "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."
  • San Francisco Chronicle "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."
  • Newsday "[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 Seattle Times "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."
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Inheritance
A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love
Dani Shapiro
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