Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

Inheritance: a Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

This memoir, which is in four parts, is Dani Shapiro’s most intimate memoir to date. Shapiro who has always considered herself her father’s daughter is devastated to learn that he is not her biological father.


Despite clues along the way, nothing clicks until she takes a DNA test. She expected to find that she is 100% Jewish but the test reveals something else altogether. She is biologically related to her mother but not to her father. 


Gradually, more details come to light. Before Shapiro was born, her parents had visited an infertility clinic known to mix sperm. Though she hopes her parents had not concealed anything from her, it becomes obvious they knew she was donor-conceived. 


Shapiro claims she had always known something was amiss. For Shapiro, who was devoted to her father, but always felt at odds with her family, the DNA results answer many troubling questions. The DNA results opens old wounds, leaving Shaprio completely unmoored. 


She describes how lost she feels in poetic language:

“I am the black box, discovered years–many years–after the crash. The pilots, the crew, the passengers have long been committed to the sea. Nothing is left of them. Fathoms deep, I have spent my life transmitting the faintest signal…I am also the diver who has discovered the black box…I had been looking for it all my life without knowing it existed.”


Eventually, she has a meeting with her biological father whom she strongly resembles. They are brought together through the magic of social media.
Shapiro digs deeper, investigating the way cryobanks currently operate. She interviews dozens of donor-conceived individual who feel just as exiled and lost as she does.


As she forges deeper relationships with her biological family, however, Shapiro begins to see everything in a new light: as a blessing.  


Shapiro, who was raised as an orthodox Jew, is peppered with Jewish phrases and expressions. Her identity is still firmly Jewish, even if she is half Christian.


She puts all of her previous writings in perspective, realizing nearly all of her works were about family secrets.


Though she gives her social father “kol hakavod” (all the honor), she comes to cherish her biological one as well.

Shapiro’s story is so important in this age when DNA kits are becoming more and more recreational. As more and more individuals have genetic testing done, more connections will be made. The likelihood of family secrets becoming accidently unearthed–as Shapiro’s had–will increase over time.

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