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

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The acclaimed and beloved author of Hourglass now gives us a new memoir about identity, paternity, and family secrets—a real-time exploration of the staggering discovery she recently made about her father, and her struggle to piece together the hidden story of her own life.

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.

Timely and unforgettable, Dani Shapiro’s memoir is a gripping, gut-wrenching exploration of genealogy, paternity, and love.

 

I was not familiar with Dani Shapiro or her writing prior to listening to this memoir. The first I heard about it was when listening to an episode of Audicted in November: Ep. 26: Family Stories: Our Favorite Listens of Kinship. It sounded really interesting and the editors at Audible mentioned that with many DNA testing sites now there is a rise in stories from people who find out their father or/and mother is not their father or/and mother.

I, for one, am fascinated by these stories. I think there is a primal instinct that we need to know who we came from. It’s why shows like Finding Your Roots and Who Do You Think You Are? are so popular.

I listened at 1.0x and still sped through it. I learned a lot about the beginnings of fertility treatments and I also learned a lot about Jewish laws and practices.

What I often do when I finish a book is read other reviews, and what I found was that a lot of people were saying that she was making too much out of nothing and they didn’t understand her trauma. That her father was still her father and genetics don’t change that.

I agree with that. Especially when couples adopt or use egg or sperm donors. What I think made it traumatic for her was first – the secrecy. Second, was that she had a complicated relationship with her mom, who was a pathological narcissist with a borderline personality disorder. She also said her mother would have fits of rage and that she was at times scared of her.

It sounded like her relationship to her father and her father’s family was very close. It seemed that there were pictures of only his family and ancestors all over their home. Dani’s dad was a religious man and she learned about the Jewish faith from him. So yes, while Dani is still Jewish because her mother is Jewish, it sounded like her mother was not the reason she was brought up to be Orthodox Jewish. So when she is trying to come to grasps with the Jewish laws that say her father was not her father and she was an abomination, I understand why she was having such a difficult and traumatic time trying to come to terms with the truth.

Going back to the secrecy, there is the feeling of being lied to for one’s entire life. Did they know and kept it a secret? Were her parents ignorant of the donor? Or were they subconsciously keeping themselves in denial. I can understand how those questions would eat away at someone. Never knowing the answer is frustrating.

My favorite quote is in Chapter 49: “It would be easy to fantasize that this would have been better. But we can never know what lies at the end of the path not taken. Other difficulties, other heartaches, other complexities would certainly have emerged. But at least we would have been a family traversing them together.”

I really loved when she got to meet her biological dad and the slow build of their relationship. I am a total sucker for those stories, and then I cry. Which is why if I find myself suck into an episode of Long Lost Family, I better have the tissues with me.

4.5 out of 5 DNA Strands.

Land of Enchantment by Leigh Stein

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Set against the stark and surreal landscape of New Mexico, Land of Enchantment is a coming-of-age memoir about young love, obsession, and loss, and how a person can imprint a place in your mind forever.

When Leigh Stein received a call from an unknown number in July 2011, she let it go to voice mail, assuming it would be her ex-boyfriend Jason. Instead, the call was from his brother: Jason had been killed in a motorcycle accident. He was twenty-three years old. She had seen him alive just a few weeks earlier.

Leigh first met Jason at an audition for a tragic play. He was nineteen and troubled and intensely magnetic, a dead ringer for James Dean. Leigh was twenty-two and living at home with her parents, trying to figure out what to do with her young adult life. Within months, they had fallen in love and moved to New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, a place neither of them had ever been. But what was supposed to be a romantic adventure quickly turned sinister, as Jason’s behavior went from playful and spontaneous to controlling and erratic, eventually escalating to violence. Now New Mexico was marked by isolation and the anxiety of how to leave a man she both loved and feared. Even once Leigh moved on to New York, throwing herself into her work, Jason and their time together haunted her.

I received this ARC from First to Read by Penguin Random House.

Ok I am going to be honest. When I started reading I had forgotten what it was about and that it was a memoir. It doesn’t read like a memoir, but more like a novel.

At first I couldn’t stand either Leigh or Jason. I felt they were both big drama queens and was so annoyed by the fact that they were actors. They just loved the drama and being at the center of a scene.

Then I went on Goodreads and realized it wasn’t a work of fiction. Something about it kept me going. It might be because it was a short and fast read, and the other reason is that Leigh is quiet poetic with her descriptions. (Well, she does write poetry.) I especially liked when she spoke about having a witness to your memories to make sure they were real.

My feelings started to change when Leigh spoke about her depression and I became more sympathetic. I even felt connected to her when she spoke about pouring out her feelings on LiveJournal and feeling closer to her friends online. I totally admit I inwardly fangirled when she mentioned LiveJournal and blogging.

When she finds out people had knew died and goes through the Facebook messages and old photos, that’s something we can all relate to. Her stages of grief and coping are feelings anyone can understand.

What I liked best was that her story is one of hope and inspiration. She pushed through to escape her abusive relationship with Jason and made a good life for herself.

At first I totally hated Jason for being abusive and cruel to Leigh. I wasn’t even sorry he died. By the end, even though there is no excusing his behavior, I just saw it as another sad and unfortunate truth that not everyone can turn their life around. Jason couldn’t escape his mental illness, which I do think he had, and he lived fast and died young. Not everyone gets to have Leigh’s outcome of a better life.

One of my favorite quotes was at the end about having a friend to help push you to be your most excellent self but also doing the hard work to push past your fears and doubts. “And so today I dare you to do the thing you don’t think you’re ready to do.”

3.5 out of 5 El Chupacabra.