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Book Review

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In her book ‘What Else Could I Do?’: Single Mothers and Infanticide, 1900–1950, Cliona Rattigan excavates a narrow, yet deep cache of cases about one of the world’s oldest and saddest phenomena: mothers who kill their children. Rattigan’s painstaking investigation of 300 such cases from Ireland, drawn from a half century during which the country knew great political turmoil, casts light on a more intimate, yet equally profound turmoil that took place among unmarried pregnant women during that same period in time. As the title suggests, in this history Rattigan dispels the notion that infanticide is a random crime committed by deranged women. Instead, she shows it to be embedded in, and responsive to, cultural norms. Her case-by-case analysis of 50 years of legal archives brings to life the voices of those who saw themselves as complicit in the deaths of these children, of those whom we, today, might view as complicit and of those who struggled to do justice in response to these crimes.

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