Read a memoir of motherhood and madness
Inferno by Catherine Cho
What to Read This Week
Inferno by Catherine Cho
A little behind-the-scenes on how I choose the books to feature weekly: I use the stats feature in Goodreads. I know not all readers are on Goodreads, but it’s a favorite of mine, and I love tracking what I’m reading and seeing what others are as well. Under the book’s stats, you can see how many ratings and reviews a book has.
I have been choosing books for Reading Under the Radar that have a couple thousand ratings or fewer. For reference, Where the Crawdads Sing, an incredibly popular book club book, has 1.5 million ratings. The Guineveres, a book I featured earlier this year, has about 3,000 ratings.
Today’s book, Inferno, only has 2,000 ratings, and a mere 380 reviews. And it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, so I was gobsmacked when I saw those low numbers.
What It’s About
The subtitle spells it out pretty clearly: a memoir of motherhood and madness. Catherine Cho had just given birth to her first child, a son, and the small family sets out on a road trip to visit family members and let them meet their baby. But instead, Catherine finds herself being admitted to a psychiatric ward for postpartum psychosis.
The memoir is told through pieces Cho journals while she’s in the hospital and from memories she’s pieced together later, resulting in a beautiful mix of complicated, messy, and emotional essays that sometimes overlap and sometimes stand entirely on their own. It’s clear that neither she nor her husband know what to do or how to treat this, only that it seems to be impossible to get a true diagnosis and real help for her. All on top of being new parents, Catherine’s husband left to both advocate for her and take care of their newborn son.
It’s clear there is love and care in the relationships in this memoir, with the anger and frustrations at the systems set up that seem designed to dismiss mental health and let patients fall off the radar. After reading this book, I went to learn more about postpartum psychosis, as it’s not something I’d even known existed before reading this book. It’s rare, but occurs in about 1 or 2 out of every 1,000 births, a stat that seems incredibly scary. And even though it is treatable and in many cases temporary, if the healthcare system is not supportive of the patient, will it actually be treated correctly? This is a question that still haunts me, six months later after having read this book for the first time.
Who Will Like It
Inferno is not an easy read, but one that is harrowing and beautiful and heartbreaking, and I’d recommend it to most everyone. If you’ve picked up books like Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan or My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach, this is a great addition to your shelf. And if you’ve never read a memoir from a person experiencing mental illness or a person with a loved one experiencing it, I highly encourage you to push those reading boundaries and add Inferno to your list. The paperback comes out March 29, so you can preorder to help this absolutely incredible book find more readers or find it at your local bookshop or library now if you can’t wait to start it.
Bonus: Book Giveaway!
That’s right! I have TWO advance reader’s copies of String Follow to give away to some lucky readers! String Follow is “a darkly comic suburban Gothic about a malevolent force that targets a group of Ohio misfits, harnessing their angst for its sinister designs.” It came out on February 1, so you can go buy your own copy, or keep reading to learn how to win one.
I have not read this book yet, but I am a year-round horror reader, and I absolutely cannot wait to have time to sink my teeth into this. It seems like my perfect combo of weird and scary, and Jess, who is a prolific horror reader, has glowing praise for this book, so what are you waiting for?
To enter to win one of two advance reader copies of String Follow, leave a comment on this post saying why you’d like to read the book! Winners will be chosen randomly from all entries.
[Fine print: US only, must have a US shipping address to win; must comment no later than February 13, 12:00 a.m. CST. Contest is not affiliated with Substack and is hosted solely by me. Thanks to the publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, for supplying the free copies for the giveaway.]
Can’t get enough, or looking for a different recommendation? Browse the archives, or check out some popular past recommendations:
Bookshop.org is hosting a contest to win free books for life! (Yes, really.) Grand prize is $600 per year to spend on bookshop.org, and there are runner-up prizes as well. Click the image above or go here to enter!
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