Book Review

Review – Inferno by Catherine Cho


When Catherine left London for the US with her husband James, to introduce her family to their newborn son, she could not have envisaged how that trip would end. Catherine would find herself in an involuntary psych ward in New Jersey, separated from her husband and child, unable to understand who she was, and how she had got there. 

It’s difficult to know where the story of psychosis begins. Was it the moment I met my son? Or was it decided in the before, something rooted deeper in my fate, generations ago?

In an attempt to hold on to her sense of self, Catherine had to reconstruct her life, from her early childhood, to a harrowing previous relationship, and her eventual marriage to James. 

The result is a powerful exploration of psychosis and motherhood, at once intensely personal, yet holding within it a universal experience – of how we love, live and understand ourselves in relation to each other.

My Review:

“… It was a warning against the triumph of love, because something so beautiful, so raw, can only end. To bare one’s heart is to know suffering, vulnerability. It is a destructive force. That’s what makes it beautiful, to know morality and failure, but to step off the edge anyway.”

Inferno by Catherine Cho was the third book I read in the shortlist for this year’s Young Writer Award. A memoir, a recount of what happened in 2017 three months after Catherine gave birth to her son and found herself in an involuntary psych ward. She was diagnosed with a rare form of postpartum psychosis that affects 1-2 in 1000 woman. This has taken my breath away. My favourite so far in the shortlist.

Reading Catherine’s memoir has brought back so many of my own child birth experiences and memories. I refused for a while to acknowledge it as “trauma”, it sounded too dramatic. But after reading Catherine’s story, I would be brave enough to say I have gone through child birth trauma too and it was ok to talk about it. In all honesty, I don’t think people will ever understand how a new mother feel after giving birth to a baby, people expect too much of us all at once. That’s why story like Catherine’s is so important, it gives you an insight to one of the most traumatic human experiences.

To me, this doesn’t read just like a memoir, it almost like a fiction. It is incredibly gripping and compelling. It captures your attention and you would not be able to look away until you get to the end. It was dark and frightening. This is as much a memoir about postpartum depression as about a look back at history. It is about Korean folktales, about immigration, about the history between North and South Korea, abort separation and longing, about tradition and a culture that is rooted so deep in history.

I just want to thank Catherine for writing and sharing this story that every new mother wants to tell. Brave and unforgettable! Thank you!

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