“I woke up one morning and life was as I had always known it to be. There were certain things I thought I could count on. I looked at my hand, for example, and I knew it was my hand. My foot was my foot. My face, my face. My history, my history. After all, it’s impossible to know the future, but we can be reasonably sure about the past. By the time I went to bed that night, my entire history—the life I had lived—had crumbled beneath me, like the buried ruins of an ancient forgotten city.”
Inheritance is memoirist Dani Shapiro’s astonishing account of how a shocking discovery upended her life, shattered her sense of self, and led to her desperate search to discover her true identity.
At fifty-four years old, Dani Shapiro had built her career on self-examination and reflection. As the author of several successful memoirs, she had publicly explored every facet of her identity—as the wife to a beloved partner, mother to one precious son, and the only daughter to two troubled but deeply influential Jewish parents. Though she never felt quite at home within her own remarkably non-Jewish body or the family that was shrouded in secrecy, she clung to her Jewish heritage, and her ancestors became the foundation upon which she built her life. “I have dreamt of them, wrestled with them, longed for them,” she writes. “I have tried to understand them. In my writing, they have been my territory—my obsession, you might even say. They are the tangled roots—thick, rich, and dark—that bind me to the turning earth.”
In the spring of 2016, Dani developed a new obsession when a DNA test she’d taken on a lark revealed the stunning news that the father she had always known was not her biological father. In an instant, everything she thought she’d known about her self and her past came crumbling down around her. If her father was not her father, who was her father? Who was she?
Though temporarily paralyzed by this news, Dani quickly threw herself into her research, determined to identify and meet he biological father and gain insight into her true history—not the one carefully manufactured by her parents. In her quest to unlock the secrets of her own past, Dani confronts the painful fact that the parents who raised her likely knew of her secret, yet hid that secret from her and took it to their graves. As she unravels layers of false assumptions and blatant deceit, she examines the nature of family secrets, the shame that lies at the heart of them, and the great lengths people will go to in order to preserve a sense of security and identity. Her journey takes her into the dark history of infertility treatments, where she must question the ethicality of her own conception and that of countless others.
This is a fascinating story that raises intriguing questions of identity, family history, and generational secrets. Dani Shapiro is a remarkable writer who expertly captures the roller coaster of her own journey in a way that is both shocking and entirely relatable. Few of us have been forced to confront lies and truths about our own genetic histories (though with the the prevalence of DNA testing, it’s becoming an increasingly common occurrence), but who among us hasn’t doubted our own identities, sought to make peace with our family histories, or questioned the decisions of those we love?
While I sympathized with Dani’s plight, and the trauma she experienced in discovering she was not who she’d always assumed she was, I admit to initially feeling confused by the level of upheaval prompted by this discovery. In attempting to put myself in her shoes, I wondered if I would be equally traumatized by news that the parents who raised me were not my biological parents. My honest answer is no, I don’t think I would be. Of course I would be heartbroken to think my parents had kept a secret from me for over thirty years, but my relationship with them—and my identity as their daughter—is built upon so much more than the blood that runs through our veins. My parents have shown me three and a half decades of love and steadfast devotion. They have invested in me and my life, and it is this sacrificial commitment that frames my identity as the daughter of Michael and Doris Dix.
As much as my parents’ action-based love has solidified my status as their daughter, they raised me to believe that who I am as their child is nothing compared to who I am in Christ. I am a daughter of the Almighty King, and this is the ultimate source of my identity. My heritage lies not just with my grandparents and great-grandparents, but with the millions of Christians who have come before me. I am a member of an eternal family, and this—above all else—is the foundation of my very being.
Sadly, Dani Shapiro’s relationship with her parents was a fractured one. Her mother was a narcisist and her father, broken by life, was emotionally and physically unavailable to the daughter who longed for his love. Still, she clung to the one thing that tied her to him—their shared blood—and with this factor removed, she did not know how to be his daughter. And while Dani’s Jewish heritage played a pivotal role in her development, she did not have an active faith life beyond that which she had inherited. I can understand how losing this left her floundering and at a complete loss as to who she truly was.
Though longer than it needed to be, Inheritance is a powerfully rendered story that I know many will relate to. If you are looking for a thought-provoking, timely memoir, make this your next read! (If you’ve already read Inheritance, I’d highly recommend listening to this fascinating interview with the author!)
My Rating: 4 Stars.