A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love

Book - 2019
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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 made last year about her father, and her struggle to piece together the hidden the story of her own life.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2019.
Edition: First edition.
Copyright Date: ©2019
ISBN: 9781524732714
Characteristics: 247 pages ; 22 cm.


From Library Staff

"Shapiro was told her entire life that she was an Orthodox Jew and had no reason to think otherwise. So when she takes a DNA test on a whim and learns that her father is not her biological father, it... turns her world upside down."


From the critics

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Aug 16, 2020

Being a fan of genealogy, I found this book fascinating. Based on the author’s own experience of discovering she had been conceived using a sperm donor, it evolves against the backdrop of her Jewish background. Much of this story conjures up many ethical questions, especially in this day and age of and DNA testing. Some critics on this site seem to think that Ms. Shapiro is looking for sympathy but I do not believe this was her purpose in writing this book. It was to show the implications of sperm donations and the secrecy that can surround it. She also questions the possibility of a multiple donor can have several off-spring all over the place. This book reads easily and quickly. A good book club choice.

Jun 24, 2020

I doubt there is anyone more self-indulgent and less self-aware than Dani Shapiro. I was horrified that she immediately contacted a stranger without giving any thought to the possible damage she could be doing to him and his family. She was all me, me, me. I read enough to know that her biological father and his wife showed more grace and compassion than she had any right to expect or deserved.

She might want to examine her continued hatred for and inability to forgive and understand her mother who has been dead for 15 years.

Jun 22, 2020

As a lark, Dani and her husband take a test offered by Ancestry that millions of others have taken. Spit into a test tube and a few weeks later find out more about your roots. But for Dani, when the results come back, it is mind blowing. They had to be wrong, she was totally Jewish, she spoke Hebrew, kept a Kosher household, and yet while she was fifty percent Jewish, she is also a combination of other nationalities. How could this be? There had to be a mistake, but after checking, there was no mistake. What it meant was that her beloved father was not really her father and out there somewhere was a man who was her biological father.

As Dani comes to grips with the information, she embarks on a journey to find her biological father, using initially a clue provided by Ancestry. Through searches, questions to relatives who were still alive, Dani traces her father. How will he react now that he has a family of his own? How will Dani comes to terms with the fact that she is a "test tube" baby, she has half siblings, and all that she held most dear is crumbling around her?

This was an absolutely fascinating story, one that ensnared me from the start.

Jan 08, 2020

Interesting wanted to learn more

Nov 20, 2019

A decent, quick read on a subject of great interest to me. I've used two different DNA test kits with a preference to Ancestry and Family for free record searches. Were my foundations so rocked as this account I'd be bewildered also. I especially liked the numerous explanations & referrals to the Jewish history, practices, word meanings. I liked how she used the search elements and logic to the conclusion.

This author throws lots of messages (IMO) dealing with status, class, abilities that are totally foreign to me, which I felt were a bit too close to privilege or trying to impress. I don't give a fig for this information, was not impressed with that aspect. Just my view or perception. I also found this story repetitive and doubt I'd read any more of this author.

The recent (past 7 years) explosion in DNA searches along with more forthcoming documentaries on sperm donors, has opened the proverbial Pandora's Box. Many who hoped for privacy in such matters may be disturbed. In some cases it's comedic drama like the TV production of Almost Family, which can have devastating results. The need for an individual hereditary medical info is understandably necessary, therefore it's not just donors but absent parent history - male or female. in this case history it turned out beneficial.

Nov 05, 2019

What happens when the very foundation of who you think you are is shattered to the core? Raised as an Orthodox Jew, secure in the love of the man she knew as her father, Dani is at first slightly baffled by some unexpected results in her DNA test. Her quest to find out the truth leads her into the secretive, scattered world of fertility practices in the early 1960s, with certain faded memories and remembered offhand comments from her parents suddenly cast in new light. As Dani learns more about where and from whom she came, it calls into question the very essence of her identity.

Oct 15, 2019

A powerful and moving memoir that takes a deep dive into the world of reproductive technology. Dani is 54 and discovers through DNA testing that a man she has never met is actually her bio dad. The father she grew up with is technically her social dad.

"I had spent all my life writing my way through darkness like a miner in a cave until I spit into a plastic vial and the lights blinked on."

This discovery sends her life into a tailspin and she has chosen to share the intimate details of her journey in this book.

"Now, I was in a crisis of the soul. If I didn't know how to locate myself--in the roots of my history, in the geography that had formed me--how was I supposed to make sense of the rest of my life?"

Because Dani and I are the same age, I found that reading this book prompted reflection on my own heritage. As Dani explores the circumstances of her conception, she is reminded by an aunt that she is not an "accident of history." None of us are. This is closely tied to a conversation she has with the founder of the California Cryobank and asks him how many potential souls are stored at his facility.

This is most certainly a book with a timely message. The many ways people can access DNA testing are colliding with the anonymity promised in the past to sperm donors. This book showcases a situation where the parties involved found a compassionate way to move forward with love. Inspiring and thought-provoking!

Sep 30, 2019

Chapter 25 and Chapter 30 - will have most relevance to anyone, who feels a need for the cultural assurance that they are "enough" to be called--in this case-- Jewish. After all, we're all "mixed." Families are complicated. Shapiro is a great writer, but as other comments here indicate - it may be hard to fathom her crisis of identity as it pertains to faith. Great book for a lively discussion.

Sep 04, 2019

(Review Not on Blog)

I am probably in the minority with this one, but I could not get into this memoir. I didn't feel any connection with Dani. I didn't relate, like or feel invested in the outcome of her story. I did finish it, but there was moments I missed of the audiobook, and I did not rewind it. I was really interested in this story when I heard her on a podcast, and the subject matter was really interesting. I had recently seen a 20/20 episode of someone doing a paternity test and found out the doctor had injected his own sperm instead of the chosen sperm donor. Now with DNA tests for genealogy being so readily available, it will be interesting (and heartbreaking in some cases) to see what is uncovered.

IndyPL_CarriG Sep 03, 2019

For someone who knows very little about their biological relatives, this book was an eye-opener. When the author takes a DNA test for fun and finds out that her father is not her biological father, her world falls out from under her. It affects her more deeply than I think even she could have expected. Culturally and religiously, biological inheritance is important in Jewish culture – so she is terrified that she is an “abomination”. When her father’s rabbi tries to reassure her it falls flat – she wonders if she’d been lied to by her parents her whole life. When she connects with her biological father, through a combination of good luck, connections, and the awesome sleuthing skills of both her and her husband, he at first doesn’t want to meet with her, despite her successful career and family life. This causes her to feel something she doesn’t even recognize at first – shame. This is the story of a successful, educated, professional adult woman having to rediscover herself.

Some people might say, well at least she had a father – she should be grateful for that! I don’t believe Shapiro is trying to say that she has it worse off than those who grew up without a father, like yours truly. Please don’t be offended by her pain on behalf of us. This memoir was the process of her discovering not only her biological origins, but also the feeling of connection they evoked in her, and trying to figure out what makes her herself, and how to reorient herself after being swept away from the only origin she had ever known. As someone without a strong connection to my ancestors, I found it fascinating to read about her journey. It reminded me how diverse we all are - even here in the US, even with someone who looks like me, who is similarly educated, who reads the same books and probably watches the same TV shows and follows many of the same people on Twitter as I do. This was my introduction to Shapiro’s work and I am looking forward to reading more.

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