Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love
Imagine waking up one day and finding you're someone entirely different, your very essence changed overnight. Kafkaesque to say the least, but that’s what author Dani Shapiro experiences in her latest memoir entitled Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love.
Shapiro, a seasoned writer who understands self-reflection and knows how to go deep inside herself, was raised an observant Jew but everything she knows to be true changes after she takes one of those online DNA tests. One moment she’s spitting into a tube noting the absurdity of it all and the next, her world gets rocked as she discovers she’s only half-Jewish.
So begins the journey to discovering her actual roots. It would be wrong to give away too much but, as children are discovering across the country, Shapiro is just the latest example of someone discovering that her father is not her biological father.
This would be a shock for anyone but, given the nature of Shapiro's Orthodox Jewish identity, it’s even more earth-shattering. For decades, she attended temple every Saturday with her dearly departed father. Now she's wondering who her biological father was and discovers he's a dyed-in-the-wool Christian.
Since her mother is also dead, Shapiro and her journalist husband attack the problem with all their journalistic chops and discover who her biological father is in record time. But that’s only the beginning of the story.
Shapiro also has a half sister who has always been distant and suddenly, it all makes sense, as it apparently has made sense to others over the years. As Shapiro writes, “A friend who had met Susie later told me she had always known we couldn’t possibly be related.”
Apparently, Shapiro, who is blonde with “Christian” features, had been getting loud clues from others her entire life but hadn’t considered that these casual observers—a couple quite rude—might be absolutely dead on about her origins.
One particular haunting story is that of a Jewish writer, who stared at Shapiro at a dinner party before remarking over and over, “There’s no way you can possibly be Jewish.” Score one for perception and intuition—or racism.
Of course, Shapiro’s mother was Jewish, which means she most certainly is Jewish herself but, as she discovers, she shares an awful lot with her biological father from looks to voice cadence and hand gestures.
Inheritance is a fascinating read that will carry you along as it explores the nature of what makes us who we are. Consider this paragraph as Shapiro tries to make sense of the “otherness” she felt her entire life:
“I am the black box, discovered years—many years—after the crash . . . I am also the diver who has discovered the black box. What’s this? I had been looking for it all my life without knowing it existed. Now I hold it in my hands. It may or may not contain clues. It is a witness to a history it recorded but did not see. What went on in that plane? Why did it fall from the sky?”
This memoir is part detective story, part personal essay and was born out of the serendipity of spitting into a test tube. As Paul Simon once wrote, we truly do live in “the age of miracle and wonder.”