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‘Inheritance’ author Dani Shapiro answers your questions
Jeffrey Brown: Our book club pick for March is "Inheritance," a memoir by Dani Shapiro about her reckoning with an ancestry test that revealed a life-changing family secret: The beloved man who had raised her wasn't her biological father.
Shapiro's book is a personal exploration of genealogy, medical ethics and, above all, enduring love.
The author joins me from her home in Bethlehem, Connecticut, to answer some of your questions now.
Dani Shapiro: Oh, it's such a pleasure to be with you, Jeff.
Jeffrey Brown: So you learned that you're not exactly who you are, to put it in a nutshell. What was this book for you?
Dani Shapiro: This book was a reckoning with my very identity.
When I made the discovery about my dad, it was as if I had to reshuffle and re-remember and re-understand pretty much every story that I had ever been told or every story that I had told about myself.
Jeffrey Brown: So, readers had a lot of questions along those lines, of course. And one is about your dad, how you came to think about him, how this changed. He had died years before all this, but your book is partly looking at that relationship.
Dani Shapiro: When I first made this discovery, I felt betrayed by my parents.
But over the course of this journey, I came to actually feel that my father was more of a father to me than I had ever even felt before. And he was, as you said, very beloved to me.
Jeffrey Brown: One of the remarkable aspects of this is how you retrace exactly what happened, how this happened and what exactly happened and who knew what when.
Dani Shapiro: I found myself thrust into the world of my parents in the early 1960s, the choices that they made, being an infertile couple, which was such a source of trauma and shame back then, and the steps that they took, which I had to retrace.
I mean, in a way, there was a ticking clock the entire time I was working on "Inheritance" because anyone who might still have known anything about the truth of the story was -- if they were still living, was very old.
What I came to understand is my biological father had been a sperm donor as a young medical student. He had been an anonymous sperm donor. I didn't ask to be conceived or born this way or to make this discovery, but I did, as so many people are.
And the whole question of what is our moral responsibility to each other, which was -- was and continues to be profound. I did meet him. And I would say that we have a really lovely friendship now. He doesn't feel like my father. The man who raised me is my dad.
Jeffrey Brown: You have told me before that, since this book came out and when you were on a book tour, you had so many people come up to you or write to you to tell you about their own experiences.
Dani Shapiro: It's this really extraordinary time, where secrets are tumbling out.
And in the end, I haven't met anyone who wishes that they hadn't found out. I haven't met one person who wished that they hadn't known, because, in some ways, when you do make a discovery like this, even if it's shocking, it also makes an incredible amount of sense.
Jeffrey Brown: I also -- I just can't help but think of this to set it in the moment that we're in.
You're writing of family, of knowing yourself better, of realizing your history. So, many people, so many of us are thinking about those things now. You?
Dani Shapiro: Oh, yes, now more than ever.
And one of the things I have been thinking about is that, when you make this kind of discovery, the very first feeling often that people have is feeling threatened, which is, I think, something that many of us are feeling right now.
And, in fact, one of the extraordinary things that's happened in my thinking, as a result of my journey, my family who raised me have been unfailingly kind and compassionate in the wake of this discovery, the family that I discovered who are my genetic family, unfailingly kind.
And I think that the antidote to that kind of threatened feeling is kindness and compassion. But we are actually all in this together.
Jeffrey Brown: All right, the book is "Inheritance."
Dani Shapiro, thank you so much.
Dani Shapiro: Thank you for having me.
Jeffrey Brown: And before we go, I want to give our pick for April.
It's called "Disappearing Earth," a novel by Julia Phillips about a community upended by the sudden disappearance of two young girls set on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula.
Now, more than ever, we hope you will read along with us, get involved with many other engaged readers and members around the country, and join us on our Facebook page and hear on the "NewsHour" for Now Read This, our book club partnership with The New York Times.