Book Review – Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love

Excerpted review from Goodreads.com:

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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This book was a quick read as the author discovers her DNA results, tracks down her biological father, and tries to understand her traditional parents’ decision to turn to a reproductive technology that was new and untested in the 1960s and frowned upon by the Orthodox Jewish movement. At first, she focuses on practical matters such as her biological father’s medical history. Most of the book, however, focuses on the author’s complicated feelings about her adored father and her troubled mother.

As a blond, blue-eyed daughter in an Orthodox Jewish family, the author always identified as an “other.” With the new knowledge of her genealogy, she concludes that she somehow “knew” she was different but couldn’t pinpoint how. This line of analysis is not convincing. Most of the book, however, is thoughtfully written. The relationship she develops with her biological family is believable and demonstrates how people cope with changed circumstances. I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

Laura Naide

Director of Religious Education

 

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