In 1919 Sian Busby's great-grandmother gave birth to triplets. One of the babies died at birth, and eleven days later she drowned the surviving twins in a bath of cold water. She was sentenced to an indefinite term in a prison for the criminally insane. For generations to come, the author's family dealt with the murders and the accompanying shame, guilt, and anxiety by suppressing the disturbing memory. It wasn't until Busby began to experience severe bouts of postpartum depression herself that she felt compelled to learn more about this shadowy story, ultimately immersing herself in the puzzling and horrific tragedy that had quietly shaped her family's collective history. In Cruel Mother, Busby digs out her own postpartum depression, by re-creating not only the broader reality of post-WWI working class England, but the more intimate setting in which her great-grandmother tried to raise a family. In the process, Busby brings ghosts to very real and familiar life, making these unexpected and inexplicable deaths that much more tragic. Ultimately, Busby and the reader are left not only with new understanding, but heartfelt empathy for all involved.
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Sian Busby is the author of the highly acclaimed A Wonderful Little Girl (Short Books). She is also a filmaker, scriptwriter and digital artist. She lives in London with her husband and two sons.From Publishers Weekly:
In August 1919, just a week after giving birth to girl triplets, Busby's great-grandmother, Beth Wood, drowned the two surviving babies in a bath of cold rainwater. She had been a good mother to her three older boys, mourned the death of an earlier girl and claimed, until her death in 1957, never to remember what happened that night. Prompted by the trauma of her own difficult labor followed by deep postpartum depression, Busby decided to investigate her great-grandmother's difficult life as a working-class girl in rural England. It's an absorbing, informative account. Beth was the daughter of a shoemaker and a lace maker, two professions on their way out by the turn of the century. She began to learn lace making at age five, attended school for a few years but went into domestic service at 13, first as a "day-girl," then for eight years as a "cook-domestic" until she married in 1901. The written evidence of Beth's life is scarce, but Busby provides a wealth of sympathetic but sobering material on the life of the working poor a century ago, with its trappings of depression, abortion, infanticide and "puerperal insanity." (Sept.)
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