Author Dani Shapiro felt confident in her ability not only to write about but also live an examined life, having written four memoirs by the time she was 50 years old. Little did she know that the results of an innocently submitted DNA test through ancestry.com would send her on an unexpected but necessary journey into her own identity.
Growing up and into adulthood, Shapiro’s fair skin and blond hair set her apart within her Jewish family and community. “I did not look like my family. I did not feel like my family.” The receipt of the email with DNA test results revealed a high percentage of non-Jewish roots in her background and sent Shapiro into “tohu va’vohu” or chaos. It turned her world upside down.
With the help of her journalist husband’s sleuthing skills, Shapiro begins to unravel and then piece together the story of her unusual conception. With her parents long deceased and their generation aging, time was of the essence. Shapiro searched out rabbis and doctors still alive.
This led her to discover unsettling information about artificial insemination practices and theories during the 1950s and ’60s within and beyond the Jewish community. It also tossed her into the world of family secrets, altered memories and actions that are buried so deep that their consequences might never be found out.
Shapiro’s conversation with her wise 93-year-old aunt, her father’s sister, is one of the most poignant. “You may not get closure, but you have an opening. In a world of inclusiveness, you need to include yourself.”
Shapiro’s skill lies in reflective genre, in this case writing the memoir as it unfolds before her. As with all memoirs, this one will continue, and yet Shapiro is able to conclude this chapter of her story with a word for her father whom she loved dearly: “Hineni, I am here, father. All of me.” As her aunt assured her, “The postscript is that it is all really love.”
An excellent read and very accessible for high school or college students engaging conversations on the unexpected impact and implications of ethical issues. Recommended for book clubs. Note for sensitive readers: the book is sprinkled with profanity. (Knopf)
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