In this debut memoir, a child abuse survivor recounts how she coped with the flood of intrusive memories that forced her to relive her painful past.
Buchhammer was a happily married young mother when disturbing memories began invading her thoughts. The first was of her stepfather Holger—a high-ranking officer in the East German military—crushing the head of a kitten and warning her, “This is what I will do to you if you tell anyone our secret.” More vivid and upsetting recollections soon followed, forcing Astrid to revisit the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of Holger and other pedophiles. Her mother, herself a victim of Holger’s violence, was unable to stop the abuse, and the authority figures she turned to for help betrayed her. Decades later, flashbacks to these events left her virtually incapacitated. Only with the help of a patient, understanding therapist and her supportive husband, Thomas, was Buchhammer able to begin to live again. Drawing on unvarnished memories and using simple, direct language, she shows the ways abusers use power to control their victims, as well as how a community that looks the other way can allow abuse to continue. She doesn’t hesitate to share the most graphic details of her experiences, and many may find these brutal passages difficult to get through. However, the barrage of horrors is mitigated by the alternation of chapters set in the past (which offer a fascinating window into East German life in the 1970s and ’80s) with those set in the present. The primary focus throughout is naturally on Buchhammer, particularly the heartbreaking isolation and fear she experienced as a child. Except for Holger, the other characters remain ciphers. Buchhammer offers few theories about her mother’s relationship with Holger or why she endured the years of torment at his hands. The years between Buchhammer’s decision to leave home as a teen and her life nearly two decades later are also frustratingly blank. The central theme is instead her successful and inspiring refusal to let her horrifying childhood destroy her present happiness.
A moving, hopeful book, but one that occasionally feels more like a therapeutic exercise than a complete work.