“The world would be forever mixed; now Germany had some India and more Ashkenazi Jew in it.” In a stunning, probing essay at The Kenyon Review, Diane Mehta examines the unknowns surrounding her birth, and her parents’ trajectories and family history. Mehta digs into who her parents were — especially her mother, a Jewish American woman living in postwar Germany — while also exploring what it means for pieces of paper to control our lives and seal our fates.

I’m a fill-in-the-blanks sort of person, so I believe that each of the boxes on the FS-240 embodies all the possibilities of circumstance, pleasure, and menace that as an infant I did not know until they happened to me. Perhaps this is my first clue that I have no control over being, and limited control over the rhythm of my days in this world. There is not only Frankfurt, where I lived for six months, but other borders and cities in me. I can keep filling in the blanks with constructed narratives, to explain the accidents that others call fate; I do not believe in it any more than I believe in astrology or magnetism or the Year of the Tiger. I do believe in habit and imagination, and out of that you can burn your way into any narrative you choose.

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.