Four memoirs explore family tensions and long-held secrets that ripple across generations.
Acclaimed memoirist Dani Shapiro was very close to her father, Paul, who died when she was 23. After a DNA test revealed that Paul wasn’t her real father, Shapiro’s world was turned upside down. In Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, Shapiro writes about searching for her biological father, who donated sperm to a clinic that her parents visited for fertility treatments. It’s an electrifying story, and Shapiro uses it as a springboard into explorations of identity and selfhood, family ties and the human need for closure. Honest, tender and moving, her memoir combines a stranger-than-fiction plotline with insights readers will savor.
Ariana Neumann provides a riveting account of her Jewish family’s experiences during World War II and the extraordinary life of her father, Hans Neumann, in When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father’s War and What Remains. Hans spied for the Allies in Berlin before going on to make his fortune in Venezuela as an industrialist, but the author didn’t learn about Hans’ past until after his death. Her book is at once a suspenseful tale of survival and a poignant tribute to her father.
In A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father, David Maraniss tells the story of his father, Elliott Maraniss, who led a unit of Black soldiers during World War II and was accused of being a communist in the 1950s. Maraniss was under FBI surveillance and was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, losing his journalism job as a result. In crafting a moving narrative of his father’s life during an era of fear, the author explores themes of patriotism and loyalty, racism and activism. He blends history with personal narrative to create a richly rewarding memoir.
Megan Phelps-Roper came of age in the conservative Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. As a zealous member of the congregation, she opposed homosexuality, espoused anti-Semitic views and became known for engaging critics on Twitter. But after her viewpoints shifted, she broke away from the church, a journey she documents in Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving Extremism. Phelps-Roper writes with unflinching honesty about questioning long-held beliefs and the process of building a new life. Book clubs will encounter substantial topics for discussion in her courageous, hopeful narrative.