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Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love

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The author of Hourglass now gives us a new memoir about identity, paternity, and family secrets—a real-time In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had whimsically submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her father was not her biological father. She woke up one morning and her entire history—the life she had lived—crumbled beneath her.

Inheritance is a book about secrets—secrets within families, kept out of shame or self-protectiveness; secrets we keep from one another in the name of love. It is the story of a woman’s urgent quest to unlock the story of her own identity, a story that has been scrupulously hidden from her for more than fifty years, years she had spent writing brilliantly, and compulsively, on themes of identity and family history. It is a book about the extraordinary moment we live in—a moment in which science and technology have outpaced not only medical ethics but also the capacities of the human heart to contend with the consequences of what we discover.

252 pages, Hardcover

First published January 15, 2019

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About the author

Dani Shapiro

21 books2,277 followers
Dani Shapiro is the bestselling author of the memoirs Hourglass, Still Writing, Devotion, and Slow Motion, and five novels including Black & White and Family History. She lives with her family in LItchfield County, Connecticut. Her latest memoir, Inheritance, will be published by Knopf in January, 2019.

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5 stars
11,333 (27%)
4 stars
17,731 (42%)
3 stars
9,865 (23%)
2 stars
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1 star
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,337 reviews
Profile Image for Jess.
237 reviews
May 9, 2019
I thought this would be an interesting book similar to Carolyn Abraham’s The Juggler’s Children. Unfortunately, I was mistaken.

Shapiro mentions her role as writer again and again as well as her desire to make sense of her life. While memoir is an inherently self-indulgent genre, I find Shapiro's unwillingness to examine her privilege very troubling. She has immediate access to information, many friends and colleagues with which to process news, and yet the first hundred pages of this book are fixated on the trauma of the discovery. Only after those hundred pages is there a brief discussion that Jewish ancestry is passed through the mother's line. Shapiro barely mentions this and it does not figure again in the text. More than once, her paternal lineage seems to denote her "credibility" as Jewish in Shapiro's narrative and indeed in her mind.

Throughout this book, biology equals parent. On page 163, when asked about who is in the photograph, Shapiro writes "the answer I had always given was no longer true." For Shapiro, a non-biological link erases parenthood. She writes like this in too many places to count throughout the book.

This memoir seems to traffic in absolutes. Finally, some acknowledgement of the grey space comes near the end. For the bulk of the book, though, biology equals parenthood with no commentary on how damaging this notion is for readers or the community of people engaged in trying to conceive with medical intervention. Being biologically conceived by the people who raised you is set up as the gold standard with certainty as though donor conception is less than, not preferable, tainted in shame, and scandal.

There is:
• no awareness or thought of the crucial and wonderful role donors can play in helping parents conceive.
• no awareness or thought to the concrete familial links created in loving adoptive homes.
• no awareness of the heteronormative and cisgendered "nature" of this memoir and the genealogical discourse in which it engages.
• no awareness that for queer and trans couples, donors and/or adoption create families instead of dividing them.

I was stunned by Shapiro’s sense of entitlement. It is clear that she believes people must be willing to respond to her emails even after she guarantees their privacy. I do not see how changing a name protects privacy given the vast amount of details shared in this book. Those concerned could easily be identified.

I also found it troubling that Shapiro complains about the Farris family not responding to her inquiries. I would be grossly offended if someone contacted me fifty years after my father’s death asking for the records of his practice or knowledge of his professional life. Why should my privacy be invaded by the descendants of his clients? Of course, I do not have my private details listed on public forums like facebook, twitter, or instagram.

I was also surprised by the lack of footnotes, references, or citations of any kind. Apparently Shapiro did not find it necessary to support her research with proper source material.

I had little patience for the section in which she claims her parents never spoke to one another about her conception. As though there is any way in the world Shapiro could know the intimate details of every conversation her parents had?! Page 223: her parents "never spoke of it again - not to each other, not to family, nor to friends." I find the hubris of such a line astounding. How could Shapiro make such a claim with such certainty? Apparently, not knowing entitles her to assume.

I seem to be one of the few who has not read her other four memoirs and I found the references to her previous work a bit odd. I do not understand the constant need to refer back to previous works as though readers are somehow required to read all of her books in order to engage with her current work.

I have to say, I am very grateful that this was a quick read. I cannot recommend it to others.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,001 reviews35.9k followers
January 27, 2019
Audiobook.... read by Dani

I love her!
I love her!!!!!
I *love* Dani Shapiro!!!!!

I really ‘could’ listen to Dani read the phone book!!!

Keeping with tradition... having listened to Dani read her books before - I made sure to ( again) soak in our warm pool - for hours -fingers getting pruney - while soaking in *Dani*!

At least when I cried ( 3 different times) - I was already wet! Two scenes hit my emotions deeply.
One when Dani was talking with her 93 year old aunt.
The other was a phone call with her son Jacob. I was a wreck!

I’m sooooooooo moved by Dani - her storybook - THIS STORY....
I seriously want to hug this woman and tell her how much of a fan I am of her.
At times - her husband reminds me of Paul. I love hearing about great men!

This story OPENED MY EYES. It shifted ways I think about being ‘conceived-by-a-donor’.
Dani explores this topic through her own experience with freshness & insights. She literally STRETCHES your own thinking and points of views on ethnics - morality- truth - secrets - family- and love.
These questions stand out:
Who Am I?
Why Am I here?
How should I live?

SUCH an incredibly thought-provoking book.
I’ve read books about ‘family secrets’....( we all have)....
My own husband grew up with a big family secret held from him - ( he learned the truth after we were married), so I have a sense of the different ways a person feels when they get surprise news which alters their entire perspective of the truth they believed.
It’s shocking!

But besides all the details - reactions
Dani writes and speaks BEAUTIFUL! She’s real!

This memoir might be for specific type of readers. Not everyone likes memoirs.
I tend to be picky about them myself-
But this TOPIC - alone might draw a wider group of people.

Great audiobook!
Great - great - great!!!!

Profile Image for Edith.
421 reviews
January 16, 2019
2 1/2 stars. Dani Shapiro unexpectedly learns, at the age of 54, as a result of a DNA test, that the man she knew as her father was not biologically related to her. She and her husband very quickly figure out (not a spoiler) that her mother became pregnant as a result of donor sperm. The memoir continues to follow her search into the circumstances of her birth.

While I empathize with the tremendous emotional upheaval this discovery caused the author--a not entirely different situation from one in my own family--I found it very hard to countenance her attitudes about it, especially those relating to her biological father and his family. I know it sounds ridiculous for a memoir to be described as self-centered, but I found this one almost unbearably so. An examination of what makes someone who they are is one thing; Ms. Shapiro's search rarely seems to depart from a simple, panicked repetition of the question. Considering the degree of importance she ascribes to her Jewish heritage, for example, it takes her quite a long time to be reminded that she's still Jewish: her biological father might not have been Jewish, but her mother was. She speaks for quite a while as if she's lost all rights to Jewish culture and religion.

However, those of us who were adopted or are the children of adoptees, as Ms. Shapiro rightly points out, at least know what we don't know. Ms. Shapiro, looking back, realized how many times she had been asked for medical information and replied, confidently reporting the health history of her father's family, never knowing that it didn't apply to her, or to her very ill little boy. This was the point at which I found her the most sympathetic.

The situation in which Ms. Shapiro found herself is becoming more and more common as more people have their DNA tested. Out of these experiences, perhaps a better book on the subject will appear.
Profile Image for Julie .
4,025 reviews58.9k followers
January 10, 2020
Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro is a 2019 Knopf publication.

A poignant journey to self-rediscovery!

The home DNA kit is so popular right now. I know many people who have purchased one and mostly it was a fun and fascinating exercise. However, there are many pros and cons that consumers often neglect to consider.

Pros- such as learning about a predisposition to certain diseases is beneficial information to have.

But, one of the cons is privacy. I think many consumers fail to realize their DNA information is being used in ways that are profitable to other people, and there are no real guidelines in place to keep one's information safe from third parties. Even the FDA backed off on their original concerns about revealing health information. Until more policies are in place I think I'll take a pass on the trend for now.

Another consequence, as many have discovered, is the exposure of a few family secrets along the way. Surprise! You have a half brother you didn't know about!

For Dani Shapiro, who only sent off for a DNA analysis on a whim, discovering that the man who raised her was not her biological father sent her reeling. This would be a shock to anyone, at any point in their lives, but for a mature woman who felt confident in her heritage- despite some skepticism from others close to her- it was an adjustment, she couldn't absorb easily.

Both of her parents were dead, but Dani did recall a startling conversation with her mother once, where her mother confessed that Dani had not been conceived in the usual manner.

From that memory, Dani pieces together a complex puzzle, which erases much of what she thought she knew about herself, while exposing the truth of her heritage, her genetic makeup and opening up the possibility for relationships with her biological family members she never would have known about otherwise.

This is a fascinating story and Dani’s voice is so compelling. I felt as though I was on this journey with her. Her confusion, hurt, and disconnect with everything she had known before is palpable, and emotional, but not disproportionately so. I thought Dani went through this process of rediscovery with grace and dignity.

There may still be lingering questions she will never have the answers to, but she has managed to find a balance between her past and her new normal. She's made peace with her parents, her biological father, and the various cultural, religious, and health implications she struggled with along the way.

This is a very engrossing and interesting book. I don’t think I’ve ever read a memoir quite like this one. I found Dani to be an engaging storyteller and I am thankful she shared such an intensely personal part of her life with us.

4 stars
Profile Image for Daniel Grey.
92 reviews37 followers
April 16, 2019
I knew this wasn't really the book for me when I started just skimming at only about 15% in. I probably would have abandoned it entirely if not for how short it is.

The main problem with this book is that the author comes off as just so unlikeable. The way in which she writes about her sudden realization just smacks of self-centeredness and privilege.

If I hadn’t been driving, I would have closed my eyes. You want the story of your conception to be at the very least corporeal. A man and a woman, limbs entwined. Sperm swimming to egg. Not the sterile clinic I suddenly envisioned, a test tube, a medical version of a turkey baster. Not my father alone in a room with pornography and a Dixie cup.

I'm sorry, but what? Is this really on the list of major problems in your life? It rings of when someone is complaining on Twitter about some trivial matter, such as the local Starbucks spelling her name wrong. I get that the fertility struggles eventually led to the entire situation that is covered in this book, but who the hell romanticizes the moment they were conceived?

The book overall is just melodramatic as hell. When discussing her parents' fertility problems with her (supposed) half-sister, her sister mentions that they used to mix sperm at fertility clinics way back when, and she may want to look into that. In the next paragraph, the author drops this doozy:

My psychoanalyst half sister was expressing a very deep and perhaps not wholly conscious wish: she would have preferred that I had not been born.

GURL! Please walk me through this logic, because what the fuck?

The whole novel can be summed up by her quote:

If my father wasn’t my father, who was my father? If my father wasn’t my father, who was I?

and my problem with that is that, while I do empathize with her situation, if your entire sense of self-identity is predicated on your family history and your relationship to a father who died over 30 years ago, maybe you don't have much of a self-identity and you should probably work on that.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,733 reviews14.1k followers
February 24, 2019
You're 54 years old, always felt like the odd duck in your Jewish family, blond, blue eyed, pale, but you were not prepared for the results of your genealogical testing. Although you often felt like you didn't belong, you knew who you belonged to, who your parents were, but you never expected what came in that little envelope. Your father, not your father, and although both your parents are no longer alive, you want and need answers. Who are you really, Dani Shapiro?

A rerrifically, honest book about Shapiro's quest to discover her real father. She enters the world of sperm donors, and this strange trip will have a related trajectory to her own life. This is a highly emotional book, a search for self,can search for answers, but the emotional language is handled well. She is a terrific writer. Her Jewish faith, of course as her mother was Jewish she still is as well, but she seeks out rabbis for questioning and enlightenment. Now she is only half of what she was, but what is the other half? A genealogical detective story that takes some amazing turns and requires some greater understanding. Would she gain more than she lost?

ARC from Edelweiss.
10 reviews2 followers
February 9, 2019
Self-absorbed, white privileged author who is blissfully unaware of the real challenges of life as she ridiculously overreacts to genetic test results.
Profile Image for Jana.
778 reviews89 followers
January 19, 2019
Wow. I don’t usually read a book this fast. I listened to this one on audible, excellently narrated by the author.

I love her writing. This is only the second book I’ve read by her, but her writing is flawless. She makes it seem so easy, and I mean this as high praise.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the book is about her unexpected DNA results. It is in the description and the title.

I really tried to put myself in her shoes. I know I would be shocked to find out my father was not actually my genetic father. But I don’t think I would be as undone by it as she was. I don’t want to sound unsympathetic. But she has memories of her father who raised her. And loved her. She will always have that bond. She has a wonderful husband and son. She is successful.

I just can’t understand the extreme reaction she had. Though I do not doubt that she had it.

So that is my conundrum with the book.

5*s Writing
2*s I just can’t relate (I might have a clue why. My husband spent most of 2018 fighting a horrible cancer. My previous problems now pale in comparison, yet I still have so much to be thankful for compared to many. This may not be fair to the book, but it’s my honest reaction.)
Profile Image for Brandice.
855 reviews
February 14, 2019
Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love is Dani Shapiro’s story of discovering at the age 54, through a simple DNA test, that her dad is not in fact her biological father - Something that was never known to her.

I cannot imagine learning of this type of news, though I know Shapiro is not alone in this discovery. Her dad is no longer alive and she admits she never had a close relationship with her mother, who unfortunately isn’t alive either, thus eliminating the possibility for discussing this revelation with them.

“My new reality continued to be ungraspable to me.”

Understandably, there were so many questions to be had: Why? How? Who knew about this? Does this change who I am? These are simply starters. Inheritance is Shapiro’s story of attempting to 1) come to terms with this discovery, as she reaches out to family, scientists, doctors, and historians, and 2) accept this new reality.

Despite the shocking blow of this news, I couldn’t help but feel that Shapiro was very fortunate that she was able to not only find, but connect with, her biological father - Something that not everyone in this situation has the opportunity to do so.

I listened to the audiobook of Inheritance, read by Shapiro herself. This is a deeply personal story, which to me, only makes sense to be narrated by Shapiro. Her feelings are expressed with such conviction through her voice. That said, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the book as much if I hadn’t listened to it - It likely would have been a 3-star read for me. Though I haven’t read any of her other books, Shapiro’s talent as a writer is evident.
Profile Image for JanB .
1,143 reviews2,494 followers
April 17, 2019

Many people participate in DNA testing as a lark, never anticipating the results will rock them to their core and make them question their entire life. This is what happened to the author when she finds out that her Orthodox Jewish father was not her biological father, and the ancestors and relatives who gave her such a strong sense of family and identity were not her blood relatives.

The author beautifully articulates her inner struggles with identity and what her parents, the ones who raised her and are now deceased, knew. She explores the ethics and the conundrum of sperm donation and artificial insemination. She examines her upbringing, her parent’s marriage and her relationship with them, the search for her biological father and what happens when contact is attempted.

I admit that when I first heard of this book my first thought was that it didn’t sound all that interesting but after hearing so many glowing reviews I decided to give it a try. It’s a testament to the skill of the author that it was not just interesting, it was enthralling. I was completely captivated from start to finish, and listened to it in one day. Her narration is impeccable, and listening to her tell her own story made it all the more poignant.

Through her exhaustive research, unraveling of the mystery, and her introspective musings, the author eventually achieves a certain level of peace with this new knowledge. How she gets there makes for a compelling and addictive read.

This was a fantastic buddy read with my friend Marialyce, and one we both highly recommend!
For our review, and others, please check out Marialyce's blog at https://yayareadslotsofbooks.wordpres...
Profile Image for Brina.
898 reviews4 followers
July 31, 2019
Infertility. A subject that is taboo in orthodox circles but has become less so in recent years with non-profit groups devoted to helping childless couples have blossomed in recent years. Dani Shapiro was born in 1963 to previously childless couple Paul and Irene Shapiro. Paul had a daughter from a previous marriage but Irene had no children of her own and was approaching forty years old. How they wanted a child, an especially delicate subject in a community where families have four, six, and as many as twelve or more children. Dani Shapiro is an only child yet questioned her appearance in the mirror. When asked why she only had one child, her mother’s ingenious response is that she hit the jackpot. One day, Shapiro and husband take DNA tests and she finds out that she isn’t who she thinks she is. Inheritance is Shapiro’s moving memoir that chronicles the results of these test results and how they have affected Shapiro’s life for better or worse moving forward.

At age fifty four and a prominent author married to an equally prominent film producer one would think that Dani Shapiro epitomizes the American dream. Her father had died in a car accident thirty years earlier and her mother of complications from the accident five years later. As a child, Dani, named uniquely Daneile by her mother, would be asked if she was Jewish more times than she could remember. Being the only blond haired, blue eyed cousin out of ten first cousins, she starkly contrasted with the rest of the prominent Shapiro clan. She would get remarks like “we could have used a blondie in the camps” and “you really don’t look Jewish.” Her response is that she was fluent in Hebrew and had a full Jewish day school education, accompanying her devoted and devout father to shul every shabbos and holiday. Despite living an orthodox Jewish life as a child, Shapiro let the barbs sting her and questioned her appearance in the mirror because something did not quite add up.

Then the results of the DNA test that altered the core of her existence. Dani Shapiro was not who she thought she was. Her father was not her father or was he. Her half sister who she felt disconnected from was not her sister at all. Inheritance brings up profound questions of nature versus nurture as well as medical and religious ethics. Shapiro was born in the early sixties. Most women were content with being housewives as the baby boom generation had not quite come of age demanding equal rights. Shapiro’s mother wanted nothing more than to be a mother herself and would do anything to get what she wanted, even if it was ethically questionable. In her quest to find out who she really is, Shapiro consults with rabbis, fertility doctors, and family and friends who would have known her parents. As the saying goes, you ask two people, you get three answers, and Shapiro received more answers than questions and continued to soul search. The most moving section occurred when visiting with her nonagenarian aunt, her father’s sister, who proudly proclaimed that she was not ready to give up on Dani if Dani would not give up on her. Perhaps there is something to be said for nurture versus nature after all.

I have always been one to dabble in my family’s genealogy. One year in my teens we held a family reunion for my father’s extended family and met seventh cousins of his who looked like they could be siblings. Dani Shapiro stood out from her family and eventually left an orthodox lifestyle although still celebrating the traditions. She did not feel quite right as the tenth and youngest grandchild of Joseph and Beatrice Shapiro. And at age fifty four she found out why, undergoing a lifelong quest for acceptance in her old and new found families. Shapiro’s mother in an act of denial or love proclaimed that Dani’s son Jacob looks just like her father and his family. Now she knows that that could not be true. Whether or not she will ever feel more comfortable in her old or new families is an ongoing process as Shapiro straddles two worlds. It must have been a gut wrenching process to write this memoir as she had to relive the feelings of finding out who she is. I give Dani Shapiro all the credit in the world. I hope she writes more memoirs on her genealogy and families as this one was profoundly moving and an excellent introduction to her work.

4 stars
Profile Image for Beth.
277 reviews5 followers
February 18, 2019
Meh, not for me. Well written, but I found the self -agonizing to be annoying.
April 16, 2019
Most of us think we know about those in our family who came before us. There may be an occasional surprise, but on the whole we are pretty confident who our parents are. Imagine if you found out that what you thought all along was not true. Would your world be rocked and those things you thought were so ingrained in yourself, be shaken?

For Dani Shapiro life was good. She had a successful career, a loving husband, a solid belief in her Jewishness, and a son who at the age of seventeen seemed headed down the road to success as well. She had always felt a bit uneasy about her looks being blonde and having blue eyes. There were always those comments like "Gee, you don't look Jewish or even once when a relative commented that they could have used her in the camps because of her looks to get extra bread.

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, and compelled me to listen to the story from start to finish in a day. This is a story that could be our story, one now with the ability to trace one's ancestry, that could upend all we thought we are and what we thought we knew.

Thank you to Dani Shapiro for taking Jan and I on this most intriguing journey. We both highly recommend this story for all the feelings expressed and love that was shown. We both listened to this on audio and Dani did a marvelous job narrating her story. It truly touched our hearts. Definitely highly recommended

“What makes a person a person? What combination of memory, history, imagination, experience, subjectivity, genetic substance, and that ineffable thing called the soul makes us who we are?”
Our reviews can be seen here: http://yayareadslotsofbooks.wordpress...
3 reviews2 followers
February 26, 2019
I feel compelled to warn others NOT to waste their time or money on this book. An extremely self-centered, whiney, overly dramatic memoir of a white privileged author. I was attempting to read it for a book club, but half way through, I had to abandon it. I honestly could not take anymore of the superficial tragedy the author thought she went through. The book screams how out of touch Shapiro is with real life challenges. A few hundred pages of overreacting to genetic testing. The woman was conceived with the aide of fertility treatments, her biological father didn't abandon her, her mother didn't have some affair she was hiding, the only tragedy is the fact that this was ever made into a book in itself.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,395 followers
January 20, 2019
But here I was. An inconvenient truth that had indeed been born from his own body.... My very existence was due to the fact that he never dreamt he'd have to deal with such a thing.

As the book description and flap copy will tell you, Inheritance is about the time respected writer Dani Shapiro took a DNA test as a lark and, from its results, learned that her father was not actually her biological father. This, of course, raised a number of questions: (1) How could this be? (2) What did her (now long-dead) parents know, and when did they know it? (3) Who was her biological father?

Like most people, I have no experience with this kind of situation, but that was precisely what moved me about it. In my rather large extended family, everyone looks like someone else, sounds like someone else, acts like someone else. There are differences among us and we don't all get along perfectly, but everyone knows exactly where they came from, because it's obvious. This book made me wonder: What would it be like not to have that? What would it be like to finally get an answer to why you never felt you had that? And what would it be like, after 54 years on this earth, to finally get a glimpse of someone who could possibly give you that? Honestly, I'm getting choked up just thinking about it!

It helps that I very recently read Shapiro's previous memoir, Hourglass, which I unexpectedly both enjoyed and admired: When this story began, I was immediately invested on Shapiro's behalf. Like Hourglass, this book has an immediacy; these events just happened. And yet, it's a mark of Shapiro's thoughtfulness and skill as a writer that nothing feels tossed together. She has thought about this, and she will make you think about it too. What are the ramifications of learning something like this? What does it mean for your relationships with your father, your mother, your own son—and the entire rest of your family and family friends? And what about your biological parent, should you find him—and what about his family? And speaking of that, what are the ethics of sperm donation? No really, what are they? Have you thought about this? I thought I had, but this book made me realize how much I hadn't considered. What's more, as a writer, Shapiro really knows what she's doing, and this short book moves at a breakneck pace. I was riveted. I feel sorry for the book I've picked up now, because Inheritance is going to cast a long shadow.

I probably shouldn't mention this... but I will. Just this morning I saw a review of this book that indicated it wasn't very good, because (paraphrasing) finding out your dad isn't your biological dad isn't that big of a deal. Not big enough to warrant an entire book, anyway. So... if you agree with that sentiment, no need for you to read this. But if you realize that it is in fact a very big deal, Inheritance will help you look at it in the most devastating and hopeful way possible.
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews966 followers
January 27, 2019
My full review can be found on BookBrowse.

A compelling exploration of paternity, identity, and belonging, Inheritance centers on a shocking discovery about the author's ancestry. In early 2016, after submitting her DNA for analysis through Ancestry.com on a whim, Dani Shapiro found out that she is not in fact biologically related to her deceased father, an Ashkenazi Jew. The acclaimed memoirist has spent her career writing about family history and Jewish culture, and Inheritance recounts the turmoil she experienced over the discovery as well as her quest to track down her biological father. The memoir's a bit repetitive, but Shapiro explores the ethical and existential questions at the heart of her journey in great detail.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,652 followers
July 6, 2019
This is the best memoir I've read this year. In the very first chapter, Dani Shapiro receives her DNA results and learns that her father was not her biological father.

And down the rabbit hole she goes, searching for the truth. This was a bit tricky because both of her parents had passed, but Dani had help solving the mystery from her husband, who was a skilled researcher, and some other friends who had experience finding genealogical answers.

Dani does eventually learn how she was conceived, which I won't spoil here, but what I really loved about this book was the discussion of culture and identity, and how much our social environment shapes who we are. Shapiro is a beautiful writer, and I'm eager to read more of her books. Highly, highly recommended for readers who like memoirs or genealogical stories.

Favorite Quotes
"It turns out that it is possible to live an entire life — even an examined life, to the degree that I had relentlessly examined mine — and still not know the truth of oneself."

"My mother was unreadable to me, not only in that moment but in every moment. She never let her true self be seen. Her dark eyes often quivered disconcertingly, and when she smiled it was a careful smile — as if smiling was something she practiced in private."

"I tell my students, who are concerned with the question of betrayal, that when it comes to memoir, there is no such thing as absolute truth — only the truth that is singularly their own. I say this not to release them from responsibility but to illuminate the subjectivity of our inner lives. One person's experience is not another's."

"My father and I had shared a history, a culture, a landscape, a home, a language, an entire world. Our bond was real and unbreakable. But I also now knew, in the starkest terms, what had been missing: mutual recognition. I did not come from him. I had never once looked into his face and seen my own."

"I tried to focus on the ordinary, grounding details of daily life. There were lists to be made, of course. Always lists to be made, as if writing items in neat vertical rows might stave off randomness and chaos."

"Gratitude and trauma weren't mutually exclusive."

"It is a measure of true adulthood that we are able to imagine our parents as the people they may have been before us."
Profile Image for Carol.
352 reviews330 followers
July 15, 2020
Genealogy has always been fascinating to me, so this memoir satisfied my interest in that search for those six degrees of separation. I have read and thoroughly enjoyed fiction by Dani Shapiro, and I was eager to read her personal story.

Unlike the author, I have never doubted my paternity. I was the ninth of 10 children…most of the girls similar looking with reddish hair and freckle faces. We were always identified as, “one of the Ford girls”. By contrast, blond-haired, blue-eyed Dani was always aware that she did not resemble her Orthodox, Jewish parents. In fact, a Jewish friend of the family once remarked, “We could have used you in the ghetto, little blondie. You could have gotten us bread from the Nazis.”

A DNA test unexpectantly reveals family secrets that sends her on a quest for her biological father (sperm donor). Even though both parents were no longer living, we learn about them and her Jewish upbringing throughout her journey. Shapiro adores and is devoted to her father even though he isn’t related. Curiously, she seems to completely disregard her Jewish, biological mother that she describes as narcissistic with a borderline personality. What happened to bring about such a contentious relationship with her mother? I wanted to know more about their mother/daughter relationship.

The story of her research and the eventual meetup with her biological father and his family was very interesting but somewhat unsettling. Since he initially refused to personally connect (and then later capitulated) I felt that writing a very public memoir about their relationship was a breach of his family’s privacy.

Even though I differed with a couple issues in her memoir, I am still a big fan of Dani Shapiro’s fiction. This memoir is recommended for readers fascinated by DNA and genealogy.
Profile Image for Tina (Trying to Catch Up).
2,450 reviews1 follower
December 4, 2021
This is a Nonfiction/Memoir. I did not think I would love this book, but I decided to give it a try because of all the talk about this book. After reading it I can honestly say I loved it. I finish this book in one day because I love it so much.
Profile Image for Liz.
2,018 reviews2,517 followers
April 17, 2021
Wow! This short memoir packs an awful lot of punch in its pages. Fifty four year old Dani Shapiro sends away for a genetics test. One of those whims, a passing idea. But when the results come back, her whole world changes. Her father was not her father. Which would be bad enough, but she had a complicated relationship with her mother and always felt like she was only her father’s daughter. Talk about one’s whole world being jolted.
I found this book fascinating. It will make you think - about identity, about our memories, about what it means to be yourself. “I was not who I thought I had been. But I was who I had always been.”
I’ve always been fascinated by the whole nature vs. nurture discussion. There’s an added layer here, because Dani’s family was Orthodox Jewish and her bio father was Christian.
This book reminds me why I adore book clubs, because I would never have known about this book, let alone picked it up. I can’t wait to discuss it.
Profile Image for Carol.
829 reviews482 followers
January 26, 2019
My sincere thanks to Author Dani Shapiro, Edelwiess, and Random House Publishing for providing this e-galley in exchange for my honest review. Inheritance: A Memoir of Geneaolgy, Paternity and Love was published January 15, 2019.

Dani Shapiro's memoir first caught my eye as she is a Connecticut author, my home-state. I have had my DNA tested and am doing genealogy so the subject is forefront in my mind.

DNA – it's all the news these days. Advertisements, articles, television series; it's no wonder many of us have ordered kits to find information regarding ethnicity, health information and our roots.

These tests can be fun, they can be informative, but the discoveries can also be risky. When I had my own test done over a year ago at Ancestry.Com I considered those risks before doing “the spit”. I knew some of my ancestors, certainly my parents, right? Still, a bit of vague history in my background made me slightly hesitant to perform the test. What if I was not who I thought I was? Imagine, if I had found out that what I had believed my whole life was not true? Perhaps those receiving unexpected results really isn't that high but it's these that we hear about and these that are turning lives upside-down.

On a whim Author Dani Shapiro decides to join the ranks of DNA participants. What should have been a look at her genetic make-up and ancestry delivered stunning results. Her father was not her father. To make this clear, her father is not her biological father yet he is the man who raised her. He has died several years ago. Did he know? Why had no one told her?What will the ramifications of this news be? What this means and how it processed by Dani, becomes the true question. She is still the same woman but is she? So many questions and conflicting feelings now plague her.

Dani Shapiro in her memoir shares this most private story with us, one that was kept hidden from her, her whole life. It is a compelling story, one that reveals the pain and injustice of secrets kept, the exploration of identity, the idea of family. She shares these with us grace, composure, insight and most of all, honesty.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,761 followers
May 29, 2019
All my life I had known there was a secret. What I hadn't known: the secret was me.

Dani Shapiro was raised an only child in an Orthodox Jewish home by a beloved, doting father and a difficult, distant mother. Blonde and blue-eyed, Dani doesn't resemble anyone in her Ashkenazi family or even her New Jersey neighborhood, yet her Jewish identity is her touchstone. It gives her a sense of belonging in a world with which she has always felt out of step. When Dani was a little girl a family friend, who would later become Jared Kushner's grandmother, touched her shining curls and remarked, “We could have used you in the ghetto, little blondie. You could have gotten us bread from the Nazis.” This creepy, chilling statement remained engraved in Dani's recall, returning decades later as a haunting mockery of her true heritage.

Two years ago, on a whim, Dani Shapiro sent a DNA sample to a genetic testing lab. The results send her into a tailspin: her genetic heritage is 52 percent Ashkenazi Jew. The other 48 percent is an inexplicable Aryan potpourri.

What this quick spit test reveals is that Dani is not her father's biological daughter. What it doesn't tell her is why, and whether or not her parents knew. Her mother and father are long dead and the woman she believed was her half-sister is curiously uncurious about the circumstances of Dani's parentage. Her mother had revealed long before that Dani was conceived at a fertility clinic Philadelphia, to which her parents had turned in desperation after years of failed attempts at pregnancy. But that turns out to be only part of the truth. Dani's biological father was a medical student earning a bit of extra cash as a sperm donor.

Dani, who in quick order thanks to the internet and a genealogical-research savvy Twitter acquaintance, learns the identity of Ben-her biological father. He is a highly respected thoracic surgeon who raised a family in Portland, Oregon. She finds one of Ben's medical lectures captured on YouTube and knows instantly this man is her blood. She feels his features and gestures. With bewilderment, despair, and not a small measure of relief, she realizes she is so clearly some other man's daughter. How could she ever have belonged to the one she called Dad?

Dani Shapiro is one of my most revered and treasured writers. I consider her a mentor and guide, and admire her elegant and lucid prose, her vulnerability and authenticity. Inheritance is no disappointment in this regard.

But a number of things troubled me about this memoir.

I found her reaction to the news—which corroborated her lifelong sense of displacement and otherness—melodramatic and overwrought (I winced at the frequency of "devastating"and "tragedy". Her parents, particularly the father she so revered, adored her, wanted her no matter the cost). That her Jewish identity was thrown into question left me scratching my head. Even this goy knows it is a matrilineal heritage, which she finally recalls deep into the story. Her musings on genetic determinism are disturbing, for they seem to negate the experiences of the adopted and those born from sperm and egg donation who are fulfilled and content in families outside of their biological origins. The privilege that ripples through her beliefs and behaviors made me deeply uncomfortable: the many resources—time, money, the doors that open to Dani because of her fame—she can call upon to solve the mystery of her conception and parentage; the ease with which she discovers the identity of Ben and his family; the entitlement that surfaces when she disrupts their privacy time and again. It would be so very easy to discern the identity of her biological father and her half-siblings. I wonder now how they feel about this very public airing of a very private decision that only Ben had anything to do with.

This question of identity and who is affected by the genetic science is very much in the spirit of our times. What makes a family, how does our ancestry determine our future, what rights we have to our parents' private lives, and the lives of those whose decisions gave us life, are ethical and moral dilemmas we face as science gives us greater options to create non-normative families.

As a writer, I will follow Dani Shapiro anywhere. The grace and intelligence of her narratives take my breath away. But I really need to sit with the disquiet I feel in reading another memoir of a deeply privileged white woman dramatizing the events of her life and the industry that turns her story into a bestseller. That is on me entirely, and a smacking reminder to seek out diverse stories and diverse voices, voices that have to work so much harder to ever hope to be heard.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,462 reviews560 followers
September 1, 2019
This lovely, heart-piercing memoir ends with the Hebrew word Hineni. "I am here." For me, that sums up this wonderful book. Shapiro's quest to find out about herself kept me spellbound. I loved this book.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,602 reviews2,573 followers
January 2, 2019
Dani Shapiro was used to strangers’ comments about her blond hair and blue eyes. How could it be that she was raised an Orthodox Jew? people wondered. It never occurred to her that there was any truth to these hurtful jokes. On a whim, in her fifties, she joined her husband in sending off a DNA test kit. It came back with alarming results: she was only half Ashkenazi Jew, and she and her father’s daughter from a previous marriage were unrelated. A vague memory of her mother jesting about her only daughter’s unromantic conception in Philadelphia quickly led Shapiro to discover that she’d been a test tube baby created at Edmond Farris’s dodgy institute in the early 1960s, when donor sperm was routinely mixed with the father’s “sluggish” sperm – possibly without the would-be parents’ explicit consent.

Within 36 hours of starting research into her origins, thanks to online genetic databases, Shapiro had found her biological father, whom she calls Dr. Ben Walden, and even e-mailed him with her findings. She was amazed to finally find someone who looked like her, their similarities even extending to their gestures and habits. Walden had donated sperm over a period of time as a medical student, and at first seemed wary of interacting with Shapiro, no doubt worried she’d be just the first of a string of half-siblings wanting his recognition. But in the year that followed, their families carefully built up a real relationship.

The whole experience was memoirist’s gold, undoubtedly, but Shapiro does more than just give a blow-by-blow; she also weaves in childhood memories, the history of artificial insemination, flashbacks to the parents who raised her (both long dead, her father decades earlier in a car crash), and a moving account of her emotional state as she pondered her identity and what her sense of family would be in the future. It’s uncanny, she notes, that family secrets played such a pivotal role in her novels, long before she ever knew of the one at the heart of her history. Shapiro’s prose reminds me of Ann Patchett’s. I’ll be reading the rest of her memoirs for sure, starting with Slow Motion. (Releases on January 15th.)

Favorite lines:

“I tell my students, who are concerned with the question of betrayal, that when it comes to memoir, there is no such thing as absolute truth—only the truth that is singularly their own.”

“I kept reminding myself that everything I had built—my family, my personhood—was unaltered. My new knowledge changed both everything and nothing. My life was like one of those large and complicated jigsaw puzzles that, once finished, displayed a completely different image on the reverse side.”

A rabbi friend tells her: “You can say, ‘This is impossible, terrible.’ Or you can say, ‘This is beautiful, wonderful.’”
Profile Image for Jennifer Blankfein.
384 reviews653 followers
February 19, 2019
Follow Book Nation by Jen for reviews and recommendations.

Do you really know the story of your life? Author Dani Shapiro thought she did; the daughter of a Jewish mother and an Orthodox Jewish father, Dani grew up surrounded by, and enmeshed in Judaism, Hebrew, traditions and rituals. She had a deep love and admiration for her ancestors who came before her and she drew strength from just knowing about them. In Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love, Dani shares with us her shocking personal discovery and the emotional rollercoaster that ensued as she searches for answers to family secrets and struggles to come to terms with who she really is.

In her early 50s, after her parents had passed away, on a whim, Dani did something so many people are doing these days – she sent in her DNA to be analyzed. She was blindsided by the shocking results and then began a search for unknown relatives to ultimately discover herself. Shaken to the core with endless questions, Dani was immersed in uncertainty of her identity, where she came from, and who she really is. Was everything she thought about all her so called blood relatives who came before her a lie? Who is her family…her son’s family…who does she belong to?

Finding long lost relatives can be a source of great happiness and fulfillment, and equally brings up so many questions and so much pain. It is a complex concurrence of emotions and if you are going to take the chance and send in your DNA for testing, emotional preparedness for the onslaught is a good idea.

While reading this incredible memoir I was swept away on the emotional journey with Dani Shapiro as she masterfully tells her unique story. Don’t miss it!

A quick search on the internet brings up many news articles and videos on the topic – here is one… VIDEO. (see on https://booknationbyjen.wordpress.com)

Profile Image for Canadian Reader.
1,064 reviews23 followers
May 5, 2019

Dani Shapiro grew up in an observant Jewish family. She was yeshiva-educated and a fluent speaker of Hebrew by the time she was in high school. Her father, Paul Shapiro, was the scion of a prominent New York Orthodox family. He’d married and divorced when young, then married a second time—to the love of his life, a young woman who would quickly succumb to cancer. Dani’s mother, Irene, a divorced advertising executive, became his third wife. Their union was not a harmonious one. Paul was “melancholy [and] passive”, a man who had lived his life “as though ‘no’ had been shouted at him since the day he was born.” Irene, on the other hand, “was someone who would never have taken no for an answer.” She was difficult, eventually “becoming a miserable, alien creature, a woman who radiated rage.” Susie (Paul’s New York psychoanalyst daughter from his first marriage) loathed her stepmother and opined that Irene suffered from narcissistic or borderline personality disorder. It is understandable that Dani was closer to her father.

In 2016, when Dani was 54, she took an Ancestry.com DNA test. Her husband compared her results with Susie’s and declared that Dani and Susie were certainly not half sisters. In fact, they would have to go back four-and-a-half generations to find their most-recent common ancestor. Using the Ancestry.com website and helped by a genealogy-sleuthing acquaintance, Dani and her husband were able to discover the name of Dani’s (paternal) first cousin (the nephew of her biological father). Soon they would determine the identity of her biological father himself. When Dani was 25, Irene had made a surprising statement: Dani had been conceived in Philadelphia. It wasn’t “a pretty story,” she said. Artificial insemination was involved—a procedure which, in the fifties and sixties, was almost universally disapproved of by theologians, lawyers, ethicists, and even some physicians. Although her mother’s communication on the matter had been limited, it provided Dani with valuable clues. They would lead her to a rather shady fertility institute not far from the University of Pennsylvania, from whose medical school fine young men, future doctors, were recruited to be sperm donors. Dani would discover her “social” father Paul Shapiro’s “slow” sperm had been mixed with the more viable sperm of a vital young donor—as was customary at the Farris Institute.

As donor stories go, Shapiro’s is unusual in the sense that it wasn’t very hard for her to find her biological father. Her account of making tentative e-mail contact with him and the tension over whether or not he, now a 78-year-old father and grandfather living on the other side of the country, would actually agree to meet her makes for compelling reading.

Shapiro’s book includes some consideration of the world of sperm donation and the fertility industry. The author makes clear that anonymous donations of reproductive material have consequences: humans who will inevitably later wonder about their origins. Shapiro also briefly discusses her own experience with fertility treatments. In their early forties, she and her husband were unable to conceive a second child and had sought medical assistance. A fair amount of the memoir is given over to reflections on identity, family secrets, and the importance of family history. The author writes that very early in her life she had been aware that she didn’t quite fit. With her blond hair, blue eyes, and fair complexion, Dani didn’t look like her family members. People often remarked she didn’t “look Jewish” at all. Irene, whose genes she inherited, was of Ashkenazic heritage, but the genes provided by her biological father were those of his French, Irish, English, and German ancestors.

Shapiro initially feels a sense of loss and betrayal when she learns of her actual parentage and some of the circumstances associated with her conception. Her memoir shows her coming to grips with her new identity. She finally understands why she felt so different, so “other”, within her extended family . While I appreciate that getting this kind of information in middle age would shake a person up (especially when the people one would most like to speak to—one’s parents—are dead), I found Shapiro’s labelling the experience “traumatic” a bit over the top. Dramatic? Yes. Traumatic? No. Bessel Van der Kolk, a Dutch psychiatrist and expert on traumatic stress, defines trauma “as an inescapably stressful event that overwhelms people's existing coping mechanisms.” Shapiro’s coping mechanisms were not overwhelmed. She certainly felt conflicted and disoriented, but as a person of some privilege she had no lack of resources to help her cope—psychological, social, educational, professional, and financial (you name it, she had it). Her characterization of the situation as a “crisis of the soul” seems almost histrionic. To give Shapiro her due, she is sometimes aware of this. For example, at one point she writes “it seemed . . . as if I had been swept into someone’s novel—someone’s melodramatic novel—and I was playing a character rather than living my life.” Yes, that’s about right.

I believe Shapiros’s material would have made a better magazine feature article than a full-length memoir. The page and word-count limits would have reined in some of the excess, forced her to excise the padding. Some of the material that appears near the end of her memoir seemed particularly self-indulgent, betraying an unbecoming sense of “specialness”. Writing about her new-found, biological half sister, Emily, for example, Shapiro notes: “Both of us [were] shy, strong, quiet, loyal . . . serious about our work, fierce about our kids, devoted to long-lasting female friendships.” She then adds: “I’d recently taken an online Myers-Briggs personality test and discovered that I am an INFJ—introverted, intuitive, feeling, judging—a category that makes up less than one percent of the population.” [Emphasis mine] Shapiro is generous enough to include her new sister in this special cohort, however: “I had a feeling that Emily might also fall into that one percent.”

I mostly enjoyed Inheritance and found Shapiro’s writing to be competent and engaging, but I do have some reservations about her work. I’m not sure that her kind of memoir writing is for me.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Candie.
316 reviews100 followers
July 3, 2019
DNF. I'm definitely in the minority when it comes to this book. I have heard good things about it but unfortunately it just wasn't for me. I read to 52% but I just could not get into it at all. There were some interesting insights into the subjectivity of our life experiences and the topic itself of DNA testing is interesting but the actual writing style and the author's reactions just didn't resonate with me. I just couldn't connect to her. I had a similar experience to the author, not through a DNA testing site but my mother actually told me about it when I was 19, and the experience and feelings I had were very different from the author, so I just found it hard to relate. Everybody is different and everyone handles experiences and situations differently. There are no right or wrong feelings, just different ones. The life changing shock of wondering who you are and if you are still the same person I didn't understand, I never felt any different. I honestly don't even really think about it much. My father is my father, unless it was a medical situation, DNA doesn't really mean much to me.

It is curious how some memories that are seemingly insignificant stay with us all of our lives, while other major events we just forget about. It's interesting to think about these memories and wonder what made that one stick? What was the significance here?

I also didn't really enjoy the humor in this book. It is not meant to be a humorous book but the few jokes that were thrown in kind of fell flat for me. There are some interesting subjects and statements to think about in here but I really think it was the writing style that just didn't work for me the most.
Profile Image for Kimberly Dawn.
163 reviews
July 31, 2019
I have a few reservations about this book, although it is an enjoyable read.

Dani Shapiro’s Jewish mother gave birth to her after artificial insemination including sperm from the beloved Jewish father who raised her from birth, along with the sperm from an anonymous donor. The donor is later proven to be her biological father.

I take issue with the reasons for the fact Dani claims that she never felt as if she belonged in the family that raised her. She cites the fact she looked nothing like them, being a blond, blue- eyed child. Granted, the physical difference was often remarked upon by others. Yet she loved her father dearly. Her relationship with her mother was fraught with difficulty. Her Jewish faith apparently was not a factor for her feelings, as she later chose to embrace her Jewish identity and faith and has raised her son in the Jewish tradition.

I couldn’t help but find her assertions somewhat unbelievable, especially given her lack of scientific evidence that might back up up her claims. It seems far fetched in her particular case for her to feel from childhood as if she did not belong. I have read there is a high percentage of blond hair and blue eyes among the Jewish. I have not read as of yet that a child of different biological parentage may sense or feel a lack of belonging. Any perceived lack of belonging has always been attributed to other factors.

I understand an adopted child once informed of adoption, usually faces turmoil and unanswered questions. Dani was not adopted, however, and was not informed of her biological father by her parents.

Also, I once had a wonderful, kind and handsome young male doctor, with big blue eyes and light sandy brown hair, of Jewish descent. He was well-loved in the community, and sadly for us, he later moved to Israel to raise his young family.

To me, the book felt a bit contrived to suit the author’s purposes for this book, a bit self-serving. I felt it strange that Dani did not explore other reasons for why she felt as if she didn’t belong to her parents. Perhaps it was because her father Paul had a daughter of a prior marriage who looked just like him? She didn’t feel a bond with her half-sister, which is not unusual. Or perhaps it was due to the lack of bonding and friction with her mother? She speaks of these issues, but does not attribute them to her perceived lack of belonging, but repeatedly cites the physical differences.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Olive Fellows (abookolive).
582 reviews4,712 followers
May 14, 2023
Dani Shapiro took an Ancestry.com DNA test for the reason anyone does: curiosity. What simple secrets were in her DNA? Little did she know at the time that her results wouldn't only reveal where in the world her ancestors once lived; a big secret dwelled there. The father who raised her wasn't actually her biological father.

Both of her parents had passed when she made this earthshattering revelation, so she had to use tiny clues from her past and present, and astonishingly, she used them to arrive at the truth about where she came form. This book is about that mystery and what the author did with the truth once she had it.

Click here to hear more of my thoughts on this book over on my Booktube channel, abookolive!

Profile Image for Celia.
1,190 reviews152 followers
August 29, 2019
Dani Shapiro is a well-known memoirist and has written some fiction as well.

This, her memoir Inheritance, chronicles her actions and feelings after she had her DNA tested in 2004. I can only imagine how she felt when she found out her Jewish father was not her genetic father and that his first daughter, her half-sister, was no relation at all.

She was able to track down her genetic father, pseudonymously named Ben Walden, because the site from which she received her DNA info identified a first cousin as well... a first cousin that Dani discovered was on the Walden side of the family.

Dani suffers much from this discovery. She really loved her Jewish father and felt that half of her identity was lost. At first, Ben Walden, was reluctant to meet, but he changed his 'thoughtus' on that. This typographical error actually brought some immediate relief to Dani. She interpreted it as 'thoughts of us'. Ben and his wife Pilar did meet with her. Emily, her half sister, reached out as well. Dani began to heal.

On page 309, I was especially touched by this quote from a rabbi

"You can say, 'This is impossible, terrible.' or you can say 'This is beautiful, wonderful'." I am glad that Dani was finally able to see the beauty.

4 stars
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