February Memoir Book Reviews

Feb 15, 2023 by Bethel Swift
This month I am highlighting two birth origin stories: Inheritance by Dani Shapiro, which is her story of discovering and processing her parent’s conception deception (that the father who raised her was not her biological father) and You’ll Forget This Ever Happened by Laura Engel, which tells her story of being forced to give up her newborn as a teenager in the 1960s and reuniting with him some forty years later. Both stories are deep and dark but filled with introspective wisdom and ever-blooming hope.

Laura’s memoir is filled with music, food, and fashion details that really make the reader feel like they are reminiscing right alongside her. I am blessed to know Laura “in real life” as the young folks say, because we both served (and she still does, as president) on the San Diego Memoir Writers Board. Laura was also a guest on Dani Shapiro’s podcast Family Secrets in the episode “The Secret Son” from 2019 which I highly recommend. While the book focuses on losing and later reconnecting with her son, I found Laura’s insight into romantic relationships to be quite poignant as well.

I relate deeply to Dani’s memoir in the sense of longing to save one’s loved ones–often as not from themselves–and attempting to process handed-down generations of anguish. One of the quotes I found to be most powerful in the book, was this one regarding inherited trauma, from her Aunt Shirley: “You carry the pain and you also carry the reward.” Another exchange between the author and her acupuncturist was equally powerful: They ask, “Do you know the three great spiritual questions?" She replies, "Who am I? Why am I here? And how shall I live?”

Definite five stars for both books. Fun fact: One of the chapters in Inheritance actually references (and reminded me of) the poem “Otherwise” which inspired my poem "Acceptance" for this month!