Inferno - Catherine Cho

Praise for Inferno

‘Completely devastating. Completely heartbreaking. Written in luminous, spiralling prose’ Daisy Johnson, author of Everything Under

‘This book is utterly brilliant: poetic, truthful, frightening, clever. I held my breath at both the power of the prose and the writer’s unflinching honesty’ Christie Watson, author of The Language of Kindness

‘Compelling and exquisitely written. Catherine Cho’s eye-opening memoir took me into a world I knew nothing about … Exceptional’ Ruth Jones

‘A fierce, brave, glittering book that charts with unflinching honesty the shift from one reality to another and the family ghosts that – without always knowing it – we all carry’ Rachel Joyce

‘A must-read for those looking to understand one of the darkest corners of the female experience’ Leah Hazard, author of Hard Pushed: A Midwife’s Story

‘I’ve rarely read such a powerful account of madness. Gripping, chilling and ultimately hopeful, this is one not to miss’ Lisa Jewell

‘Utterly compelling and beautifully written, Inferno is one of the bravest and most beautiful books I have ever read’ Alice Feeney, author of Sometimes I Lie

‘A powerful and poignant book. The difficult and haunting brutality of both psychosis and relationships was so beautifully and honestly portrayed’ Bev Thomas, author of A Good Enough Mother

‘I was hooked from the very start … Catherine Cho does a great service to the cause of breaking down stigma surrounding mental ill health … A beautiful book’ Alastair Campbell

‘Insightful and shocking’ Stylist Best Non-fiction Books of 2020

‘Triumphant’ Cosmopolitan Books You’ll Be Reading in 2020

For James and Cato, the light in my life

According to Korean tradition, after a baby is born, mother and baby do not leave the house for the first twenty-one 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 twenty-one days, a prayer is given over white rice cakes. After 100 days, there is a large celebration, a celebration of survival, with pyramids of fruit and lengths of thread for long life.

When my son was born, I was reminded of this tradition daily by my family and by my in-laws, because we were breaking all the rules. I took a shower after birth, ignoring the week-long rule of no water on the mother’s body, and my first meal wasn’t the traditional seaweed soup, it was sushi. We opened our doors, let in guests, bundled my son in layers and took him on walks in the falling snow. And then we did a fateful thing: we left our home.

My son was two months old when we embarked from London on an extended trip across the US. I had come up with a plan to use our shared parental leave to do a cross-country tour of family and friends and introduce them to our son. I didn’t see why we had to pay attention to Korean traditions – or superstitions, as I thought of them. As Korean Americans born and raised in the US, my husband and I had never paid much attention to the rules, and I had always thought our families didn’t either. Except that suddenly, with the birth of a baby, the rules seemed to matter.

We had avoided any evil spirits from California to Virginia, but perhaps we’d just been running away from them, because they found us at last at my in-laws’ house in New Jersey. My son was eight days shy of his 100-day celebration when I started to see devils in his eyes.

My husband would take me to the hospital emergency room; by then I would be screaming and tearing off my clothes in the waiting room. I was