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Inheritance

A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love
Narrated by: Dani Shapiro
Length: 6 hrs and 44 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (2,078 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

New York Times best seller

“A gripping genetic detective story, and a meditation on the meaning of parenthood and family.” (Jennifer Egan, author of Manhattan Beach)

From the acclaimed, best-selling memoirist, novelist - “a writer of rare talent” (Cheryl Strayed) - and host of the hit podcast Family Secrets, comes a memoir about the staggering family secret uncovered by a genealogy test: an exploration of the urgent ethical questions surrounding fertility treatments and DNA testing, and a profound inquiry of paternity, identity, and love. 

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 an audiobook 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 50 years, years she had spent writing brilliantly, and compulsively, on themes of identity and family history. It is an audiobook 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.

©2019 Dani Shapiro (P)2019 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

  • A Washington Post, Vulture, Bustle, Real Simple, PopSugar, and LitHub Most Anticipated Book of 2019  

"Profound... The true drama of Inheritance is not Shapiro’s discovery of her father’s identity but the meaning she makes of it...Shapiro’s account is beautifully written and deeply moving - it brought me to tears more than once." (Ruth Franklin, The New York Times Book Review

"Inheritance reads like an emotional detective story...Shapiro is skilled at spinning her personal explorations into narrative gold... Life has handed her rich material. But her books work not just because the situations she writes about are inherently dramatic and relatable. Her prose is clear and often lovely, and her searching questions are unfailingly intelligent... The relevance of Shapiro's latest memoir extends beyond her own personal experience. Inheritance broaches issues about the moral ramifications of genealogical surprises." (NPR)

"Poignant...Origin stories are among the most powerful that exist because they shape people’s identities and anchor them - to a culture, a place and other people. When stories about the past change, Ms. Shapiro argues, so does the future...In losing the genetic connection to the man who raised her, Ms. Shapiro gained new insight into their enduring bond." (The Wall Street Journal)

Editorial Review

The dark side of DNA testing

When I first heard about Inheritance, I have to admit I wrinkled my nose a little—hadn’t I already listened to enough memoirs about FAMILY SECRETS and COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIPS? I mean, sure, it’s one of my favorite sub-genres, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Inheritance, as it turns out, is a perfect little jewel of a memoir. Well into her adult life, Dani Shapiro took a DNA test on a whim—only to discover that her beloved Orthodox Jewish father was not, in fact, her biological father. Naturally, inner turmoil ensues as she sets out to uncover the truth about her past. I don’t know how she does it, but Shapiro’s memoir is somehow an impossible combination of beautiful words, soul-searching insight, and fast-paced thrills. *And* her narration is amazing too—what??! I can think of only one plausible explanation: she must be some kind of word sorcerer. —Rachel S., Audible Editor

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

I bit too long, some things could

I was fascinated with the first half or so of the book. It then started to drag, like she was trying to make a longer book than there was material. The initial sleuthing and contacting the biological family was great. Then the constant proclamations of her love for Shapiro family and lack of the same for her mother grew old.

23 of 23 people found this review helpful

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A spellbinding book

While marketed as a story of an author investigating her paternity, the truly compelling character in the book is not the author’s father, but her mother, against whom the author seethes and rages, and on whom she enacts a fearsome revenge. It is also true that the investigation of her paternity is a gripping and deeply honest story, with twists and turns to rival any novel. And yet while the story is compelling and moving, is the author able to use it to truly unravel the deepest questions we face as individuals, and as a society tethered to technologies whose ramifications are not fully understood and whose consequences can ripple for generations? Readers/listeners of the final chapters can decide for themselves. In any event, this recording is at times a tear-jerker, at times harrowing, at times surreal or unnerving in its intimacy, at times laugh out loud funny, but at all times, I could not “put it down.”

45 of 47 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars

Desperately Seeking Dad

This book’s target audience (middle class/ upper class women, 45+), should get ready for another “Where have I come from, Where am I going” tale in the groove of such pop classics as “Eat, Pray, Love,” “Wild,” “Under the Tuscan Sun,” etc.
The author narrates the search for her real dad after she finds out via DNA testing that her dad was NOT her actual dad, and this sets off nuclear bombs of epic proportions in her psyche to find out WHO her real dad is.
Fortunately, Dani is wealthy enough and has a flexible enough schedule that she can fly cross country to meet bio relatives, do extensive research on HOW she came into existence (test-tube baby, Beta test), tracking down the doctor’s contemporaries (the doctor being dead himself) and family members to find out how the procedure was done, and who qualified for the program.
Of course, a few key taps on the keyboard and she knows exactly who her bio dad is—a respected doctor and medical ethicist (if the irony is lost on you, don’t worry. The author herself doesn’t think to mention it until the end of her story.) Not gonna lie—I was hoping her bio dad would turn out to be a deeply conservative high-school-only small herd farmer in North Dakota, or the leader of a far right evangelical mega-church deep in the heart of Dixie. But no—her bio dad is so much like her and her own family, it makes it seem that visiting a fertility specialist for sperm treatment will result in a perfect match to you, your lifestyle, your outlook, your Socio-economic class, and your political affiliation. It’s like Match.com for parents wanting to have kids but need help doing so.
There’s lots of matter-of-fact statements that would make a middle class reader take pause—like when the author FLIES FROM THE EAST COAST TO CALIFORNIA JUST TO GET A TATTOO—but you forgive her a little bit for this because her anxiety in not knowing her father Or coming to grips the fact that her “social father” never revealed to her the truth, is almost psychologically crippling to her. I get anxiety worrying about medical tests and what I can make with that pound of burger in the fridge, but the luxury of not knowing exactly who your father is, but having the time and the means to find out, is frivolous gold.

The author does an excellent job reading her book, but I don’t think I’ll seek out anymore of Shapiro’s multitude of books she’s written (which she mentions in her narrative. A lot.) Her world is very “extra,” and kind of inaccessible to older middle class readers like myself.

24 of 25 people found this review helpful

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I could not finish the book.

The never ending angst of the author was wilting. One star each for the story, performance, and overall.

ps The stars all automatically light up and you cannot correct the number.

20 of 21 people found this review helpful

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Listened to Interview? Nothing new in book.

I found the narration a bit plaintive, the depth of the story disturbing. The author seemed devastated and victimized by her discovery. She seemed to relate everything in her Jewish background to her father, yet I thought one inherits Jewish ancestry from oneʻs mother.
She is a much deeper thinker than I am, I suppose. The discovery of her sperm donor father was not exciting to her,
it was a tragedy meant to ruin her life. She blamed her parents so unfairly, they were doing what they thought was right in their time.
I heard an interview on FreshAir and looked forward to the book. During the interview, the major themes and outcomes were discussed. Thus, the impact of the discovery, contact, and resolution was not new.

18 of 19 people found this review helpful

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I wasn't impressed - couldn't finish

Even as short as this book was, and the fact that I love genealogy, this book could not hold my interest. Was it the story or the narration, I'm not sure, but I returned it only partially read. Thank goodness for exchanges.

18 of 19 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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I want an apology from Audible for recommending

I was very disappointed in this book because it had a lot of potential. The idea is interesting, but unfortunately, this writer isn't and I only made it halfway through the book because I was trapped on a long flight with nothing else downloaded. The main issue is that it was slow and extremely redundant. What she has to say would fit in a New Yorker article. I feel kind of guilty writing this review because it's like slamming a middle-aged soccer mom, but that is somewhat mitigated by the many times she said she was too pretty to look Jewish.

49 of 54 people found this review helpful

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Whiny rich person memoir

1) Though written very well, this story could have wrapped up in half the words.
2) She acts like this is the worst thing ever, yet she grew up with loving parents who didn’t care she did not look like them. It felt like a whiny rich person wanted more attention. Believe me, there are much worse things that can/could’ve happened.
3) She acts like you have to be “born” of a religion to believe and be accepted into that religion. Yet she does many things against her so beloved religion. Again the writing led me to believe she just wanted attention and was whining.

51 of 57 people found this review helpful

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Author makes too much out of too little...

I have enjoyed Dani Shapiro's books in the past, but I only made it about halfway through this title before turning it off.
I have noticed a tendency in many memoir writers to turn every single thing that happens to them into a full-length book, whether the event merits that sort of attention or not. The first book or two feels fresh, but then it feels like they spend their days mining their lives in search of a story....any story. This was a life twist that was clearly earth-shattering to Ms. Shapiro but feels decidedly less earth-shattering for the reader. She is such a solid writer that I stayed with it for much longer than I might have otherwise, but ultimately her refusal to look past her own nose left me cold.

64 of 72 people found this review helpful

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It had its moments, but not worth a credit

The only thing I got out of this is that the author thinks a lot of herself and she can't remember her past. Oh wait. Yes she can. I think that sums up the whole story.

20 of 23 people found this review helpful