The Stranger in My Genes by Bill Griffeth

The Stranger in My Genes: A MemoirThe Stranger in My Genes: A Memoir by Bill Griffeth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author was talked into getting a DNA test by his cousin as they were both genealogy buffs looking to explore family history. The results came back showing his father, the man who raised him, was not his biological father, or so it seemed. His first reaction was denial. Then as he studied more about inheritance and DNA he understood that it might be true and there could be several explanations for it. I know of at least three.

I enjoyed this book for several reasons. The least important one is that the author has the same name as my favorite uncle. I’m also a genealogy buff and have had my DNA done, with a surprise in store for me there. The author takes a long time getting to the meat of the story, but the book is generally well-written. The aspect that I found most compelling, if somewhat difficult for me to grasp, is how emotionally he took this revelation. It consumed him for years and tore him apart. Whom should he tell? Was it a lab error? Should he ask his 95-year-old mother about it? It seemed to me that it should not have been so surprising. If you don’t want to know that kind of information, don’t take a DNA test. There are multiple bold face warnings about this kind of thing on the testing company websites and instructions.

The other aspect that truly surprised me was how little he and his other relatives understood about DNA. The father gives a boy his Y Chromosome. Why is that so hard to understand? The author’s oversimplification of much of the DNA science was a disservice, too. This is really junior high science class stuff, but apparently it baffles and frightens a lot of people. The book gave me a sense of how deeply some people feel about their identity, or at least what they think of as their identity.

I have one warning. I listened to the audiobook that was produced by Silicon Valley Reads. It was an odd, rather amateurish production and the reader, while not bad, exactly, had an odd cadence that I found disconcerting, almost like he was reading to very small children. I suggest reading this one.

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