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As children, Brewer and her younger brother, Tomek, would peel sheets of skin off their fingers and palms—a sign of a vitamin deficiency—and compare who had torn off the most. They grew up in 1980s Poland, a country beset by political unrest and mired in an economic crisis. Store shelves were empty, fuel was scarce, and citizens queued for rations. Consequently, their family did what many rural Polish families have done for generations: forage for mushrooms and wild berries. “Mushroom hunting,” writes Brewer, “is a national sport in Poland.” She wonders whether her mercurial and alcoholic mother intentionally ate a poisonous mushroom to escape “a life she never wanted to live.” That suicide attempt was just one of many over the years. When things got too dicey at home, she and Tomek would walk to their grandparents’ house for food and love. “As with our beloved mushrooms,” writes the author, “my world was both toxic and lifegiving, and I learned to navigate Mother’s land mines, to receive her blows, and to recover on Grandma’s lap, regaining strength to weather the next family crisis.” Interspersed throughout the book are recipes from her childhood, including fish aspic, fermented rye soup, and bigos, a stew of sauerkraut, sausage, and, of course, mushrooms. Brewer’s psychic wounds may have not yet fully healed—“As wpadka, a birth-control accident, I will never know whether I was wanted”—but now a mother herself, she knows firsthand the demands of parenthood and how trauma passed down through generations can leave its mark. She can also recognize different sides of her mother: “her youthful enthusiasm, her love for animals, her sensitivity and creativity.”

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