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Inferno is the riveting memoir of a young mother who is separated from her newborn son and husband when she's involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward in New Jersey after a harrowing bout of postpartum psychosis. When Catherine Cho and her husband set off from London to introduce their newborn son to family scattered across the United States, she could not have imagine Inferno is the riveting memoir of a young mother who is separated from her newborn son and husband when she's involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward in New Jersey after a harrowing bout of postpartum psychosis. When Catherine Cho and her husband set off from London to introduce their newborn son to family scattered across the United States, she could not have imagined what lay in store. Before the trip’s end, she develops psychosis. In desperation, her husband admits her to a nearby psychiatric hospital, where she begins the hard work of rebuilding her identity. In this memoir Catherine reconstructs her sense of self, starting with her childhood as the daughter of Korean immigrants, moving through a traumatic past relationship, and on to the early years of her courtship with and marriage to her husband, James. She interweaves these parts of her past with an immediate recounting of the days she spent in the ward.


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Inferno is the riveting memoir of a young mother who is separated from her newborn son and husband when she's involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward in New Jersey after a harrowing bout of postpartum psychosis. When Catherine Cho and her husband set off from London to introduce their newborn son to family scattered across the United States, she could not have imagine Inferno is the riveting memoir of a young mother who is separated from her newborn son and husband when she's involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward in New Jersey after a harrowing bout of postpartum psychosis. When Catherine Cho and her husband set off from London to introduce their newborn son to family scattered across the United States, she could not have imagined what lay in store. Before the trip’s end, she develops psychosis. In desperation, her husband admits her to a nearby psychiatric hospital, where she begins the hard work of rebuilding her identity. In this memoir Catherine reconstructs her sense of self, starting with her childhood as the daughter of Korean immigrants, moving through a traumatic past relationship, and on to the early years of her courtship with and marriage to her husband, James. She interweaves these parts of her past with an immediate recounting of the days she spent in the ward.

30 review for Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness

  1. 5 out of 5

    Olive Fellows (abookolive)

    Catherine Cho’s son was not even three months old when she experienced a psychotic break; when her son’s eyes transformed into devil’s eyes and she had trouble distinguishing between her own life and parallel realities, she was experiencing a rare but serious ailment known as postpartum psychosis. Though the onset typically happens closer to giving birth, the result is just as severe: hallucinations, paranoia, inability to sleep - the list goes on. Basically overnight, a new mother can go from b Catherine Cho’s son was not even three months old when she experienced a psychotic break; when her son’s eyes transformed into devil’s eyes and she had trouble distinguishing between her own life and parallel realities, she was experiencing a rare but serious ailment known as postpartum psychosis. Though the onset typically happens closer to giving birth, the result is just as severe: hallucinations, paranoia, inability to sleep - the list goes on. Basically overnight, a new mother can go from being sleep-deprived, but stable, to being inside the jaws of mental illness. Cho opens her memoir with her inside a mental hospital, trying to strengthen her grasp on reality while trying to navigate the “office politics” inside the ward. “The fastest way out of here,” a fellow patient tells her, “is to act like you don’t want to leave.” With no sense of how long she’s been inside (days? weeks? months?), she tries to remember who she is and how she came to be there. She uses a journal to record things she’s certain are real. And so we go on a walk with Cho as she rewinds her timeline, first bringing us back to her childhood in a Korean-American family. We see that she’s had complicated relationships with men in the past beginning with her father and ending with an abusive relationship that she fled. We see her meet the man who would become her husband and the happy details surrounding her pregnancy - information that proves foreboding for the reader who knows, eventually, what is coming. What may not be expected from this book is that it is predominantly this author’s life story leading up to her psychosis. All of the backstory may seem like a distraction from the point if the title and synopsis are to be believed, but I would argue that the extensive backstory is not only great reading, but gives the reader a sense of the person, the mind, to which Cho is attempting to return. When her husband tells her during a visit he pays to the mental hospital that no, she isn’t ready to come home because she’s not “herself” yet, it’s critically important that we know who that self is. Not only does Cho achieve this, but as we’ve come to know her as a person by the time, toward the end of the book, that she takes us through her stress-induced psychotic break, we can see and fully know how out-of-character this was for her. The way she describes what she was seeing, thinking, and feeling as she began to melt down is all-consuming and terrifying. One minute she’s merely a stressed new mom feeling the weight of her in-laws expectations, the next, she’s seeing things that aren’t real. The reader is along for the ride, seat belts required. This is a short, but spectacularly done memoir.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Vonda

    An honest and unflinching look at postpartum psychosis, mental hospitalization and the Korean culture. A brutally honest look at Catherine Cho's life. It's amazing how she opened herself up like this and shared so much! She tells how traveling around stressed her out and then she had a baby leading to postpartum psychosis. The Korean culture was very unforgiving of her problems, so she was institutionalized in the mental hospital missing her child's 100 day celebration. I know it wasn't easy to An honest and unflinching look at postpartum psychosis, mental hospitalization and the Korean culture. A brutally honest look at Catherine Cho's life. It's amazing how she opened herself up like this and shared so much! She tells how traveling around stressed her out and then she had a baby leading to postpartum psychosis. The Korean culture was very unforgiving of her problems, so she was institutionalized in the mental hospital missing her child's 100 day celebration. I know it wasn't easy to have written a book like this, thank you for sharing your life experience Catherine Cho.

  3. 4 out of 5

    fatma

    4-4.5 stars an absolutely stunning memoir in every sense of the word. catherine cho's writing has a way of burrowing under your skin. rtc 4-4.5 stars an absolutely stunning memoir in every sense of the word. catherine cho's writing has a way of burrowing under your skin. rtc

  4. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    This book broke me a little. Well a lot. Holy cow.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Emily M

    3.5 As an experience worth basing a memoir around, Cho’s sudden, violent descent into postpartum psychosis a few months after the birth of her son is unparalleled. We meet Cho on a general psych ward in America. She’s supposed to be on holiday, travelling around the US with her husband and three month old to introduce him to family. But family pressure, sleep deprivation or plain old hormones rush in, and she starts hallucinating that the baby is the devil, the hospital is Hell, and she is a kind 3.5 As an experience worth basing a memoir around, Cho’s sudden, violent descent into postpartum psychosis a few months after the birth of her son is unparalleled. We meet Cho on a general psych ward in America. She’s supposed to be on holiday, travelling around the US with her husband and three month old to introduce him to family. But family pressure, sleep deprivation or plain old hormones rush in, and she starts hallucinating that the baby is the devil, the hospital is Hell, and she is a kind of latter-day Beatrice, charged with leading her husband safely out. This is the story of her journey back from the brink and of her restlessness to know what has caused the psychosis: was it genetics? Circumstance? Was it because she ignored the Korean traditions her parents and in-laws insist upon, and did not eat her seaweed soup, and left the house too soon after birth? Cho makes a good narrator for such a story, her very mildness and normalcy underlining the shocking violence of her experience. She is not at all the kind of person you would expect to find restrained on a gurney. And she weaves a number of interesting strands into her story, from Korean and Western mythology, to Dante, to musings into how family predisposes you for life, how Koreans feel the wounds of the North-South separation down the generations, how abusive relationships can shape a psyche. Structurally, I felt there were some problems. The most interesting aspect of the book is the psychotic breakdown itself, which is mostly told late in the story. The least interesting parts, surprisingly, are in the psych ward, where largely irrelevant characters bog down the story and where nothing much happens or develops. As with many memoirs, I suspected a long essay could have covered much of the same ground. Still, Cho writes well. Her prose is not “luminous and spiralling” as a nonsensical cover blurb suggests, but it is pleasingly straightforward and not too prone to poetic mumbo-jumbo. And it’s a fascinating story.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Madeline O'Rourke

    Inferno is a fantastic memoir. Postpartum psychosis is something that I had zero knowledge about when I began reading this book. Cho deftly writes about her experience, informing the reader about postpartum psychosis in a super engaging and well-written way. I'm not sure if Cho will write anything else—fiction or non-fiction—but I'd absolutely be eager to pick up anything she does write. She is talented, able to take an interesting story and make it engaging to read. Inferno is a fantastic memoir. Postpartum psychosis is something that I had zero knowledge about when I began reading this book. Cho deftly writes about her experience, informing the reader about postpartum psychosis in a super engaging and well-written way. I'm not sure if Cho will write anything else—fiction or non-fiction—but I'd absolutely be eager to pick up anything she does write. She is talented, able to take an interesting story and make it engaging to read.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Enrico

    I was initially expecting a book about psychosis, but Inferno by Catherine Cho revealed to be so much more. This is a story about love, motherhood and life: after just a few pages I wanted to learn more about Catherine's experience, so much so that I struggled to put this book down. With Inferno, the author bravely guides us through her emotional journey, which starts with her lost in a psych ward, but page after page she untangles the knots and resurfaces with new hope. She is able to vividly de I was initially expecting a book about psychosis, but Inferno by Catherine Cho revealed to be so much more. This is a story about love, motherhood and life: after just a few pages I wanted to learn more about Catherine's experience, so much so that I struggled to put this book down. With Inferno, the author bravely guides us through her emotional journey, which starts with her lost in a psych ward, but page after page she untangles the knots and resurfaces with new hope. She is able to vividly describe her psychosis and to make us understand that this could happen to anybody among us. During this process she shares very intimate parts of her life, family and love, where her husband James and her son Cato patiently wait for her at the end of the tunnel. I really appreciate and praise Catherine for her willingness to share her experience with the world. This book should be in everyone’s wish list!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Long

    Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for an honest review. This is a tough book to read because of the host and raw emotion that it gives the reader. I can't even begin to imagine how frightening it would be to "lose" one's mind in psychosis. This book is written with such honesty. I like how she incorporates the past in with her experience of being in the mental hospital. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for an honest review. This is a tough book to read because of the host and raw emotion that it gives the reader. I can't even begin to imagine how frightening it would be to "lose" one's mind in psychosis. This book is written with such honesty. I like how she incorporates the past in with her experience of being in the mental hospital.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Haider

    Inferno is a powerful, raw memoir about a women's experience with postpartum psychosis. Catherine Cho was raised in a Korean American household. She married and had her first child. She and her husband decided to use part of their family leave to travel the US to visit relatives with their new baby. During this trip, Cho's mental state spiraled downward into a state of postpartum psychosis. She is checked into an institution. Cho is very open about her state of mind throughout her journey and it Inferno is a powerful, raw memoir about a women's experience with postpartum psychosis. Catherine Cho was raised in a Korean American household. She married and had her first child. She and her husband decided to use part of their family leave to travel the US to visit relatives with their new baby. During this trip, Cho's mental state spiraled downward into a state of postpartum psychosis. She is checked into an institution. Cho is very open about her state of mind throughout her journey and it is quite scary at times. There are moments that she forgets who her husband is and that she even has a child. In my opinion, this is an important read to shine a light on the mental health issues that women can face after giving birth to a child. Cho's writing took me right into her mind and I deeply felt her sadness that by the time she got out of the hospital her baby son wouldn't remember her. There were a lot of emotions. This would be a great addition to any women's studies or feminist bookshelf. Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kait Vanderlaan

    Inferno is a memoir about experiencing post-partum psychosis in the Korean culture. I appreciate the vulnerability of the author in sharing about her illness and the things that lead to it: previous trauma, excessive traveling, and feeling unprepared for motherhood. Each brief chapter alternates between her time in a psychiatric hospital, experiences leading up to her illness, and memories from the past. I enjoyed the format and the way things pieced together in an attempt to offer an explanatio Inferno is a memoir about experiencing post-partum psychosis in the Korean culture. I appreciate the vulnerability of the author in sharing about her illness and the things that lead to it: previous trauma, excessive traveling, and feeling unprepared for motherhood. Each brief chapter alternates between her time in a psychiatric hospital, experiences leading up to her illness, and memories from the past. I enjoyed the format and the way things pieced together in an attempt to offer an explanation of how something like this can happen. Unfortunately, I felt that much of the book came across as flat. So much of this story is focused on the hospitalization: what she ate, descriptions of other patients, observations on the unit etc which I found quite boring. While this may very well be all she remembers of the experience, I couldn’t help but feeling like something was missing and wanting more. I wish there were more descriptions of her emotional experience and thought process leading up to her psychosis and during her healing. There are bits and pieces of her emotions and thoughts throughout the memoir - which I found fascinating; however, much of it felt very surface level and I did not feel I adequately understood the author’s experience. This was an interesting read on a very stigmatized topic - I’m glad the author chose to share her story.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jyotsna

    Actual Rating: 4.8 stars “Through my dread and my fear, I saw the beauty in them, the patterns in the universe. I could tell it was dangerous, this raw energy, this coursing feeling, and for a moment, I wished I could tumble in, tumble into the madness.” What a brilliant and a heartbreaking memoir about facing mental health issues post giving birth. The book comes with trigger warnings for sure and highly recommend that you do not read this if you are an expecting mother. I felt so bad for the a Actual Rating: 4.8 stars “Through my dread and my fear, I saw the beauty in them, the patterns in the universe. I could tell it was dangerous, this raw energy, this coursing feeling, and for a moment, I wished I could tumble in, tumble into the madness.” What a brilliant and a heartbreaking memoir about facing mental health issues post giving birth. The book comes with trigger warnings for sure and highly recommend that you do not read this if you are an expecting mother. I felt so bad for the author and her family who had to go through all of this. But glad that they are at a much better place now! Heartbreaking and recommended! Read for the Quarterfinals of the Booktube Prize 2021, this one made it to the Semifinals. Ranking - 3rd (out of 6 books) (For more insight, please watch the video on my YT channel)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kazen

    More than mental illness, this book is about the experience of having a mental illness. Cho vividly describes what it's like to experience a psychotic break, to see the devil's eyes in her son's face, and the uncertainty of treatment in on a US psychiatric ward. It's immersive, gripping, and ended up being a one day read for me. If you'd like to hear more thoughts check out the Booktube Prize vlog where I talk about it in detail. More than mental illness, this book is about the experience of having a mental illness. Cho vividly describes what it's like to experience a psychotic break, to see the devil's eyes in her son's face, and the uncertainty of treatment in on a US psychiatric ward. It's immersive, gripping, and ended up being a one day read for me. If you'd like to hear more thoughts check out the Booktube Prize vlog where I talk about it in detail.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    I've always been fascinated by the topic of postpartum psychosis. I have four children and have suffered postpartum depression and anxiety, so it's a topic close to my heart. I've never seen a memoir or even a book written about it, so I was so excited to read Catherine Cho's memoir. I read it practically in one sitting. It was so moving and fascinating that I couldn't put it down. My only complaint is that I wish it was longer and had more detail! Postpartum psychosis is something that needs so I've always been fascinated by the topic of postpartum psychosis. I have four children and have suffered postpartum depression and anxiety, so it's a topic close to my heart. I've never seen a memoir or even a book written about it, so I was so excited to read Catherine Cho's memoir. I read it practically in one sitting. It was so moving and fascinating that I couldn't put it down. My only complaint is that I wish it was longer and had more detail! Postpartum psychosis is something that needs so much more research and discussion, and I hope this book brings that to light.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lucia Walker

    Astonishing, terrifying and utterly heartbreaking, this memoir gives a remarkable insight into the vortex of postpartum psychosis. It is also a hymn to the aching tenderness, love, guilt and regret bound up in both childhood and motherhood. Written in masterful, limpid prose, it grips from the first page: I could not put it down.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jaclyn

    Cho’s experience of post-partum psychosis is brutal. When she sees the devil in her three-month old baby’s eyes you know how dark this will get. I’ve read so many Girl, Interrupted style memoirs and novels now and seem to have an insatiable appetite. The difference here is Cho’s insights into Korean culture, especially when it comes to birth and babies. I had never heard of post-partum psychosis and learnt so much.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dear Anne...

    Disappointed. I am very into books of the mental health nature and keen on reading more and more on motherhood as of lately. But I felt like this book was being told to me through a distance stance. It didn't feel like the author was telling me her story, but a story of someone else's life. I stuck with it and held hope that she would open up and dive deeper into her experiences and her feelings, but no. Story is still beautiful, about the importance of family and having a support system but I ex Disappointed. I am very into books of the mental health nature and keen on reading more and more on motherhood as of lately. But I felt like this book was being told to me through a distance stance. It didn't feel like the author was telling me her story, but a story of someone else's life. I stuck with it and held hope that she would open up and dive deeper into her experiences and her feelings, but no. Story is still beautiful, about the importance of family and having a support system but I expected better [and maybe that is my own fault].

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    3.5 rounded up Inferno tells Cho's story of her postpartum psychosis which came on three months after the birth of her son during a trip back home to the U.S.. Her memories from her time in hospital are interspersed with her life up until the birth of her child, and they make for a riveting and moving read. Thank you Netgalley and Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ) for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review. 3.5 rounded up Inferno tells Cho's story of her postpartum psychosis which came on three months after the birth of her son during a trip back home to the U.S.. Her memories from her time in hospital are interspersed with her life up until the birth of her child, and they make for a riveting and moving read. Thank you Netgalley and Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ) for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Cho, a Korean American literary agent based in London, experienced stress-induced postpartum psychosis after the birth of her son, Cato. She and her husband James had gone back to the USA when Cato was two months old to introduce him to friends and family, ending with a big Korean 100-day celebration for him at her in-laws’ home in New Jersey. Almost as soon as they got to her in-laws’, though, she started acting strangely: she was convinced there were cameras watching their every move, and Cato Cho, a Korean American literary agent based in London, experienced stress-induced postpartum psychosis after the birth of her son, Cato. She and her husband James had gone back to the USA when Cato was two months old to introduce him to friends and family, ending with a big Korean 100-day celebration for him at her in-laws’ home in New Jersey. Almost as soon as they got to her in-laws’, though, she started acting strangely: she was convinced there were cameras watching their every move, and Cato’s eyes were replaced with “devil’s eyes.” She insisted they leave for a hotel, but soon she would be in an emergency room, followed by a mental health ward. Cho alternates between her time on the New Bridge ward – writing in a notebook, trying to act normal whenever James visited, expressing milk from painfully swollen breasts, and interacting with her fellow patients with all their quirks – and a rundown of the rest of her life before the breakdown. Her Kentucky childhood was marked by her mathematician father’s detachment and the sense that she and her brother were together “in the trenches,” pitted against the world. In her twenties she worked in a New York City corporate law firm and got caught up in an abusive relationship with a man she moved to Hong Kong to be with. All along she weaves in her family’s history and Korean sayings and legends that explain their values. Twelve days. That was the length of her hospitalization in early 2018, but Cho so painstakingly depicts her mindset that readers are fully immersed in an open-ended purgatory – a terrifying time when she questioned her sanity and whether she was cut out for motherhood. “Koreans believe that happiness can only tempt the fates and that any happiness must be bought with sorrow,” she writes. She captures both extremes, of suffering and joy, in this vivid account. Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Congleton

    Wow. Just...wow. Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. Cho is a masterful storyteller, bringing the reader along for the wild ride that is postpartum psychosis. I found myself having to pause to catch my breath as Cho brought me through the depths of her psychosis—the paranoia, the loss of time and space, the confusion—and suddenly returned to moments of lucidity, then back again into chaos once more. I’d recommend reading this with a cup of stress relief tea on hand.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Realistic and haunting in its perceptions experienced. But extremely repetitive and characteristic for all the voids in its very form. I was virtually numbed by the half way point. As if it itself, very words of this book, were RX anti-psychotic medications. Thus she did express herself overall in a 4 stars equivalent to what she had experienced.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Basic B's Guide

    Inferno is an intimate and deeply affecting account of postpartum psychosis. As a mother I could relate to the panic and stress of being responsible for a human life. I remember my first day on my own with the boys, panic set in and I wondered how in the heck I was going to take care of these babies and not screw it up. Also the guilt we carry as mothers throughout it all. Cho carried these feelings of guilt even when she was in the psychiatric ward.⁣ ⁣ Not only was the story relatable as a mother Inferno is an intimate and deeply affecting account of postpartum psychosis. As a mother I could relate to the panic and stress of being responsible for a human life. I remember my first day on my own with the boys, panic set in and I wondered how in the heck I was going to take care of these babies and not screw it up. Also the guilt we carry as mothers throughout it all. Cho carried these feelings of guilt even when she was in the psychiatric ward.⁣ ⁣ Not only was the story relatable as a mother but I learned so much about Korean culture and traditions in regards to motherhood. “According to Korean tradition, after a baby is born, mother and baby do not leave the house for the first 21 days. There are long cords of peppers and charcoal hung in the doorway to ward away guests and evil spirits. At the end of the 21 day’s, there is a large celebration, a celebration of survival, with pyramids of fruit and lengths of thread for long life.”⁣ ⁣ I recommend memoir readers add this to their tbr. Thank you to the publisher for a free copy.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Signe

    Cho writes well about her split from reality, and a tiny bit about coming back to it. What the story highlights for me is that if her experience was this horrible spending 4 days in emergency and about a week in a psych ward, with parents and her husband by her side, how horrible it must be for people whose psychosis doesn’t end, and for those who have no supports whatsoever that get stuck in the system alone with no hopes of release or improvement in their condition, largely because of the outd Cho writes well about her split from reality, and a tiny bit about coming back to it. What the story highlights for me is that if her experience was this horrible spending 4 days in emergency and about a week in a psych ward, with parents and her husband by her side, how horrible it must be for people whose psychosis doesn’t end, and for those who have no supports whatsoever that get stuck in the system alone with no hopes of release or improvement in their condition, largely because of the outdated ways we treat psych patients. This needs to change.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    #Inferno #NetGalley #CatherineCho I am reviewing this book after being given an advanced copy by NetGalley. Thanks to NetGalley and the author, Catherine Cho! Following is an honest review of this true story. It is about the trials and tribulations of a new mother who finds herself experiencing postpartum psychosis when she travels from London to the United States to introduce her new son to her and her husbands families. It tells of her unraveling from the pressures of travel and having a new b #Inferno #NetGalley #CatherineCho I am reviewing this book after being given an advanced copy by NetGalley. Thanks to NetGalley and the author, Catherine Cho! Following is an honest review of this true story. It is about the trials and tribulations of a new mother who finds herself experiencing postpartum psychosis when she travels from London to the United States to introduce her new son to her and her husbands families. It tells of her unraveling from the pressures of travel and having a new born with whom she is yet to bond. Korean traditions unravel as she sinks further into her psychosis, ends up involuntarily hospitalized in a locked mental hospital and misses her sons 100 day life celebration. Family and especially, her husband, try to stand by her and help her heal but there is little they can do. This novel is a sensitive, revealing and honest look at postpartum psychosis and mental health in general. I would have given it 4 1/2 stars but since no 1/2 stars are allowed I had to give it 4. I recommend exploring this novel.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    I wouldn’t know where to begin. This is an amazing book. I wish it had been available to me many years ago. The author is incredibly honest, and reassuring to every new mother who might be experiencing unexpected problems.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Elena L.

    [3,5/5 stars] INFERNO is an honest and vastly vulnerable memoir of Catherine Cho focused on her postpartum experience. When Cho and her family decide to go on a round trip in United States to introduce her son to the family, she develops postpartum psychosis. As a mother myself, this memoir is relatable in many ways - the stress and anxiety to raise a child and the feelings of guilt when things go out of our plans. Despite some reckless attitudes, I could empathize with Cho's desire to reconstruct [3,5/5 stars] INFERNO is an honest and vastly vulnerable memoir of Catherine Cho focused on her postpartum experience. When Cho and her family decide to go on a round trip in United States to introduce her son to the family, she develops postpartum psychosis. As a mother myself, this memoir is relatable in many ways - the stress and anxiety to raise a child and the feelings of guilt when things go out of our plans. Despite some reckless attitudes, I could empathize with Cho's desire to reconstruct her sense of identity. It is hard to find a balance between being a mother and centering on our own happiness. I also found the Korean traditions regarding motherhood very similar to Chinese customs and I kept nodding while I was reading- the Korean tradition of staying 21 days at home after childbirth (it's called "quarantine" in China, meaning 40 days); to always keep both mother and child warm; to not shower for a week-long; to drink nutritious soup (seaweed soup in Korean tradition; fish/herbal soup in Chinese tradition) for the purpose of recovering mother's physical health. As we read Cho's experience, these superstitions/folktales often become a burden and we are constantly trying to understand the meaning of following the tradition. The process of giving birth was raw and a few memories from my personal experience arose in my mind. Surprisingly, the parts of Cho in a psychiatric ward were the least interesting to me and I was more invested in her backstory. Through beautiful writing, INFERNO is an intense exploration of motherhood, postpartum psychosis and identity. I do recommend this memoir for readers seeking to read about these themes. [ I received a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review ]

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kim Becker (MIDDLE of the Book MARCH)

    Read for the Booktube Prize semifinals. Review to come after the judging.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ada

    I already know I will reread this book several times and that each time I'll discover something I didn't see before. And that's why it's going on my favorites bookshelf. I already know I will reread this book several times and that each time I'll discover something I didn't see before. And that's why it's going on my favorites bookshelf.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michael J

    I have not read this book, but just read the article in the Guardian with a excerpt of Catherine’s harrowing account. I honor her courage and fortitude in sharing this awful experience with the world. May we learn more about the reality of postpartum psychosis from her, and may the future be bright with healing and love for all her family. B’shalom, Mike

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Angeleen

    Why is it that we never hear about the horrors of motherhood unless we actively seek them out? I think if you asked Catherine Cho, she'd say it was worth it for her son, but...maybe she wouldn't? Or maybe some other people wouldn't? Or others simply wouldn't want to find out? The point is, the physical acts of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood are feral and lethal and it was refreshing to read a story where the love part of it wasn't romanticized and the terror not minimized. A few months after Ch Why is it that we never hear about the horrors of motherhood unless we actively seek them out? I think if you asked Catherine Cho, she'd say it was worth it for her son, but...maybe she wouldn't? Or maybe some other people wouldn't? Or others simply wouldn't want to find out? The point is, the physical acts of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood are feral and lethal and it was refreshing to read a story where the love part of it wasn't romanticized and the terror not minimized. A few months after Cho gives birth to her son, she and her husband take an extended trip from London where they live to the USA, starting with the California branch of her husband's family and making their way cross country to the East Coast to see her parents and in-laws. Something is a little off in California. The paranoia she feels after learning there are cameras in her brother-in-law's home never really leaves her. The stress weeks later when she is staying with her in-laws heightens the sense of being watched and launches her into a complete psychotic break. It took me a while to get into this book. Much of the first two-thirds are descriptions of the trip and her family interspersed with her past, from her eerily quiet childhood, to her abusive relationship in Hong Kong, to her current reality with her husband and newborn son. It was well-written with a strong narrative thread, but it was slow developing. However, the juice is worth the squeeze. What I was most curious about, what made me pick up the book, was if Cho would be able to detail what it felt like inside a psychotic episode, in this cause caused by postpartum psychosis. As a social worker in a field where I work directly with many SPMI clients, I am always looking for ways to understand their experience, to learn more than symptoms and diagnoses. The trouble is, once people stabilize, they don't always remember most or even any of the events of their psychosis, and the ones who do often have no desire to revisit it, for obvious reasons. Cho does not disappoint in this regard. The final third of the memoir is spellbinding, the description of the escalation of hallucinations and delusions so real and convincing that not only was it easy to empathize and see how she became so out of touch with reality, it was almost impossible to see how she could've avoided it. The hallucinations and delusions as illustrated by Cho are terrifying and palpable. Her confusion is our confusion. Her disconnect is understandable. This is not your average story of new motherhood, and I think this is an important book that has the potential to be extremely useful to everyone who needs to better understand postpartum mental issues for personal or professional reasons.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mara

    ‘Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness’ by Catherine Cho is fascinating and poetically written memoir about the author’s experience of early motherhood and postpartum psychosis. As someone who has two young children, I could certainly relate to the bizarre and incredibly demanding experience of early motherhood Cho details in her memoir. Specifically losing bodily autonomy, suffering and recovering from the trauma of birth, and the constant demands and exhaustion that comes from caring for ‘Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness’ by Catherine Cho is fascinating and poetically written memoir about the author’s experience of early motherhood and postpartum psychosis. As someone who has two young children, I could certainly relate to the bizarre and incredibly demanding experience of early motherhood Cho details in her memoir. Specifically losing bodily autonomy, suffering and recovering from the trauma of birth, and the constant demands and exhaustion that comes from caring for a newborn. Cho also explores how our past experiences and trauma can shape motherhood and even epigenetics. (Epigenetics: the observable phenomena that trauma imprints on our DNA and is passed to future generations) I really liked learning about how her family’s Korean culture and traditions and being raised in America shaped her views. This gives the memoir a beautiful and poetic dimension. When Cho’s baby was about 3 months old, she suffered a psychotic episode and could not recognize her baby or anyone around her and subsequently had terrifying hallucinations. Her first-person accounts of psychosis in the hospital are absolutely frightening. I ended up reading these parts late at night when I was unable to sleep, which was a bad idea! Thankfully, Cho’s husband and family were devoted to her and able to get her immediate care. Cho broaches so many topics about motherhood, expectations, culture, trauma, and medical treatment that are thought-provoking. ‘Inferno’ is a truly affecting, well-written memoir of early motherhood. Thank you Henry Holt & Company and NetGalley for providing this ARC.

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