A simple DNA test can upset a lifetime of identity

By Nora Krug | Washington Post

Dani Shapiro was used to hearing it: “There’s no way you’re Jewish.” With her blond hair, blue eyes and delicate features, Shapiro has long been easy prey for cultural assumptions.

Shapiro must be your married name, she’d heard more than once. A family friend (Jared Kushner’s grandmother, as it turns out) took things a step further: “We could have used you in the ghetto, little blondie. You could have gotten us bread from the Nazis.” Never mind the 56-year-old author was raised as an Orthodox Jew and studied the Talmud; she has, as a blogger put it, “a look that would qualify her for the role of lead shiksa in a Woody Allen movie.”

Now, in her new book, “Inheritance,” Shapiro reveals the shocking result of an over-the-counter DNA test: Biologically speaking, she is very much qualified to play lead shiksa. In fact, her memoir – a modern-day mystery with a neurotic heart – could easily be the screenplay for a Woody Allen movie.

The tale begins innocently, in a casual moment at Shapiro’s Connecticut home. Shapiro’s husband, curious about his own roots, has sent for one of those genetic kits that promises to tell “a more complete story of you.” The vials lie around the house for a while, become “part of the scenery,” resting ominously on a kitchen counter as the couple goes about its daily life. One night, Shapiro’s husband unwraps the containers and nonchalantly tells his wife to spit in one. Without much thought, she does. “I felt vaguely ridiculous and undignified,” she writes. “Why was I even doing this?”

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love, by Dani Shapiro. Knopf

Shapiro, a self-professed “serial memoirist,” had, after pages and pages of introspection, become quite certain of who she was. Over the course of a decade – and four memoirs – she documented a personal life full of dramatic twists. In “Devotion” and “Slow Motion” Shapiro divulged the tumult of her early adult years – her relationship with the stepfather of a close college friend (a married, flamboyant lawyer who later ended up in jail), the car accident that killed her father and nearly destroyed her mother, the rare illness that threatened her young son’s life. In “Still Writing” and “Hourglass,” Shapiro shared the experience of working her way through her troubles and building a mostly happy family life after two failed marriages.

“I am no longer consumed by the question: What if?” she wrote fatefully in “Hourglass,” a book she had just completed before her OMG genetic test.

“Inheritance” is consumed by the question of what if? What if the man Shapiro thought was her father is not? What if she could find the man who is her biological father? What if he doesn’t want anything to do with her? What if he does? What if she is not who she thought she was? “All my life I had known there was a secret,” she writes. “What I hadn’t known: the secret was me.”

The first unknowns …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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