Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness

Holt. Aug. 2020. 256p. ISBN 9781250623713. $26.99. BIOG
In novels such as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, depictions of women separated from their children and confined as “mad” should provide a metonym for living with issues such as postpartum psychosis. Yet as Cho clearly illustrates in this debut, these fictions cannot be disentangled from facts. For women who experience barriers (cultural, linguistic, socioeconomic, etc.), maternal care cannot rightly be called such and, in fact, these obstacles often result in high mortality rates for mothers and their babies alike. With lyrical and often discomforting writing, Cho boldly recounts her involuntary hospitalization following the birth of her son. Her recollections also shed insight into the inequities of maternal care in the Unites States and the stigma of mental illness, especially among people of color, intertwining those thoughts with ones on motherhood in general. The most affecting passages are ones in which Cho tries to recall memories of husband and son while recovering in the ward and, later, trying to adjust to her identity as a mother. “I was a mother. I was still trying to figure out what that meant.”
VERDICT A candid memoir that reminds readers how much work we need to do to ensure that maternal care and mental illness are divested of stigma.
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