Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love (Hardcover)
Dani Shapiro might have thought she had exhausted her material for memoir in her four previous books, but a DNA test undertaken almost as whim set in motion a series of mysteries about who she really is, and inspired her fifth memoir. Along the way is a loving recollection of her parents and their marriage, an imagined narrative of the way they might have overcome challenges to fertility, and the effect of what she learns on herself and others. A personal family story that is deeply riveting and moving. -Rick— From Spring Booknotes 2019
January 2019 Indie Next List
“Who are we? Does who we think we are change when we learn a family secret that alters the source of our identity? Shapiro has explored issues of identity in her previous memoirs, but in her latest she applies her signature candor and heart to a riveting, provocative, and inspiring genealogical mystery and journey of discovery.”
— Roxanne Coady, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, CT
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“A gripping genetic detective story, and a meditation on the meaning of parenthood and family.” —Jennifer Egan, author of Manhattan Beach
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.
About the Author
DANI SHAPIRO is the author of the memoirs 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.
New York Times Editors' Choice
A Washington Post, Vulture, Bustle, Real Simple, PopSugar, and LitHub Most Anticipated Book of 2019
"Profound... The true drama of Inheritance is not Shapiro’s discovery of her father’s identity but the meaning she makes of it...Shapiro’s account is beautifully written and deeply moving — it brought me to tears more than once."
—Ruth Franklin, The New York Times Book Review
"Inheritance reads like an emotional detective story...Shapiro is skilled at spinning her personal explorations into narrative gold... Life has handed her rich material. But her books work not just because the situations she writes about are inherently dramatic and relatable. Her prose is clear and often lovely, and her searching questions are unfailingly intelligent... The relevance of Shapiro's latest memoir extends beyond her own personal experience. Inheritance broaches issues about the moral ramifications of genealogical surprises."
"Poignant...Origin stories are among the most powerful that exist because they shape people’s identities and anchor them—to a culture, a place and other people. When stories about the past change, Ms. Shapiro argues, so does the future...In losing the genetic connection to the man who raised her, Ms. Shapiro gained new insight into their enduring bond."
—The Wall Street Journal
"A profound and exquisitely rendered exploration of identity and the true meaning of family."
"Dani Shapiro can tell this story like no one else could... Smart, psychologically astute and not afraid to tell it like it is."
"An incredible work of investigation and self-reflection... A thrilling and emotional ride... The story’s beating heart is Shapiro herself... 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."
"A remarkable, dogged, emotional journey... Inheritance reads like a mystery, unfolding minute by minute and day by day. The reader experiences the grief, surprises and setbacks right along with the author... Shapiro’s book is a wise and thorough examination of how this news affected her. She is a good guide for the bombshells that are yet to explode for so many families."
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Inheritance will speak to anyone interested in identity, in family, in a story told with great insight and honesty and heart."
—San Francisco Chronicle
“A fascinating and 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.”
"An introspective mystery."
"In Inheritance, Shapiro movingly reckons with identity and family secrets."
"Fascinating... With thoughtful candor, [Shapiro] 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."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"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."
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Page after page, Shapiro displays adisarming honesty and an acute desire to know the unknowable."
—Booklist (starred review)
“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.”
—Jennifer Egan, author of Manhattan Beach
“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.”
—Meg Wolitzer, author of The Female Persuasion
“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.”
—Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light We Cannot See
“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.”
—Will Schwalbe, author of Books for Living and The End of Your Life Book Club
“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.”
—Andre Aciman, author of Call Me by Your Name