Nursing Book Club
Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness by Catherine Cho
A troubling account of postpartum psychosis
Who we are is not only a product of our DNA, as we all know. Our culture and the sum of our individual experiences also help to make us into the adults we become. We ignore this at our own peril, as author Catherine Cho reveals in her postpartum memoir, Inferno.
Inferno unfolds in a series of flashbacks, which describe vividly how Cho, a Korean-born woman who was living in London when her young son was born, came to be in an inpatient psychiatric unit in New Jersey.
Through these flashbacks, we slowly learn the source of the lifelong unhappiness that culminated in Cho’s psychological breakdown.
Her father is described as a largely silent man with a bad temper, simmering with rage. Her mother is ambitious, wanting better for her daughter than she had herself. After gaining an education in the U.S., her mother moved far away, leaving the family separated. None of this was addressed or resolved within the family, which left the author and a younger brother to navigate life between two unhappy parents.
After this difficult childhood came a series of terrible, dangerous relationships with men. You might wonder why it took so long for Cho’s psychiatric symptoms evident — or if anyone was even looking.