Our March book club pick for Now Read This, the PBS NewsHour’s book club with The New York Times, is Dani Shapiro’s “Inheritance,” a memoir about grappling with the unexpected results of an ancestry test taken long after her parents are gone.
After submitting her DNA for analysis to an ancestry website in 2016, Shapiro received a piece of news that rocked her to the core: The man who had raised her, her now-deceased father, was not her biological kin.
The family secret sent Shapiro on a journey to unearth new information about her lineage, and reconcile her Orthodox Jewish upbringing with this discovery. As she reconsiders her spiritual identity, Shapiro writes about the ways developments in genetic science have raised questions about the ethics of donor conception, as well as the feasibility of anonymity in the digital age.
The New York Times Book Review critic Ruth Franklin called “Inheritance” a “beautifully written and deeply moving” memoir that looks at the fractured nature of adults’ relationships with their parents.
“Indeed, no one’s parents can ever be entirely one’s own; they have histories and secrets of which we know nothing,” writes Franklin. “And among the mysteries of adulthood is the way parents and children, once apparently inseparable, can part like amicable lovers: still fond, but no longer close. As the song goes, it’s love — not genes — that will keep us together.”
Shapiro expressed how her experience informed her feelings about family secrets in an essay with the PBS NewsHour last year. She said that contrary to the belief that what children don’t know won’t hurt them, she now believes that “what we don’t know absolutely does hurt us.”
“We’re living in a time when family secrets are tumbling out at a stunning rate,” Shapiro said. “Easy, popular DNA testing along with the Internet makes it nearly inevitable that secrets involving family and identity won’t make it to the grave. And that’s a good thing, because no matter how high up on a shelf a secret is kept, it’s still there.”
In a 2019 video essay for the PBS NewsHour, Shapiro shared her opinion on why not knowing the truth can cause more pain, rather than less.
“Inheritance” won the 2019 National Jewish Book Award, was named one of Wired’s top Science books of 2019 and a best book of 2019 by Vanity Fair.
Shapiro will join us at the end of March to answer your questions about “Inheritance.” We hope you’ll read along.