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Healing from a Childhood in Communist Poland

Agata Brewer shares an excerpt of her memoir at the English Reading Series.

Agata Brewer smiling
Photo by Agata Brewer

Growing up in communist Poland, Agata Brewer foraged for mushrooms to survive the shortage of food and supplies. As a child, Brewer’s relationships compared to these mushrooms—sometimes toxic, sometimes lifegiving. She didn’t receive love and care from her mother, but she found refuge in her grandparents’ love for her—a love that helped her survive. Brewer’s painful childhood experiences inspired her to write The Hunger Book: A Memoir from Communist Poland. At the November 17, 2023, English Reading Series, Brewer shared a chapter from her memoir and gave insights into healing from trauma and navigating complicated family relationships.

Brewer read the chapter “Carp,” which details Brewer’s mother’s alcohol addiction, and how it affected many aspects of Brewer’s life. She compares herself to a carp meant to be food, swimming aimlessly in a bucket full of water, with nowhere to go and no purpose in life. She recalls finding empty alcohol bottles hidden around the house, and how her mother’s alcoholism triggered violent outbursts, which soured holidays. To this day, she equates smirking to violence, and her memories from her childhood are hazy due to the trauma and pain she experienced. Because of her mother’s alcoholism, Brewer found comfort in her grandparents, and their deaths led her to move to the United States—as far away from her mother as possible. As a mother now, Brewer reflects on her childhood in this chapter and examines how generational trauma affected her and still affects her and her family.

After Brewer finished the chapter, she took questions from the audience about her writing and healing. She explained that healing is an ongoing process—one that is never truly over—and though writing helped her process those feelings, she also had a therapist to help her sort through her trauma. One way she did that was to focus on the positive aspects of her life, rather than dwelling on the negatives. In her memoir, she sprinkled recipes throughout the chapters, and she explained that she did so to recall her fond memories of cooking with her grandparents. Brewer said, “I didn’t eat my way into overcoming trauma, but it was kind of reclaiming the good parts of my childhood that I might have forgotten otherwise.”

Brewer offered advice for people who hope to write about their trauma as a way to process their emotions and work through their hardships. She said, “Be kind to yourself, make allowances for yourself, and give yourself time.”

Learn more about Agata Brewer here.

Check out the next readers at the English Reading Series here.