Quantcast

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Book Review: Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness by Catherine Cho

Catherine Cho never placed much credence in her parents' Korean superstitions. So when she and her husband had a baby boy and coincidentally,  just after they had the opportunity to come back from England for an extended trip around the US to introduce their son to friends and family, it made sense. Her parents were horrified as he wasn't 100 days old yet. Also she hadn't subscribed to the myths about staying in bed for the first 21 days and all that goes with that.

At first, the trip went great. They began on the West Coast and drove East. In Virginia, where Catherine is from, things started to be uncomfortable, but she thought that was due to her family who were never comfortable people to be around, in the best of times. Then at her in-law's in New Jersey, she saw the devil in her baby's eyes. Next thing she knew, she woke up in a locked ward.

The storytelling goes back and forth, explaining Catherine's childhood, an abusive relationship she was in before, and what life was like on the ward for her now. She pieced back together, from medical notes and her husband's recollections, what happened that last bad few days that caused her family to have her committed. And she had to piece things back together, if she ever wanted to put her life back together, and go back home.

Certainly there are some shadows of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Awakenings, but Catherine's story is purely her own. We've all known someone who's struggled with postpartum depression, but postpartum psychosis is something else. And she tells it so amazingly, it's shocking to realize that the person who was once so unhinged, is the same person reconstruction those events so beautifully. Insanity is such an incredibly hard thing to write from first person (although as a reader, that's the best way to understand it) and it reminded me a little of Jill McCorkle's The Cheer Leader which is my gold standard for that. Gives you an incredible amount of empathy and sympathy for people who go through this, and an understanding as to why there's such a stigma. The ending, with Catherine now suffering debilitating periods of depression, probably for the rest of her life, is melancholy, but realistic. This book reminds me why I love memoirs so much. This was a riveting story but one I would never, ever want to live through.

This book is published by Henry Holt, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

No comments: