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The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures (FSG Classics) Paperback – April 24, 2012
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“Superb, informal cultural anthropology--eye-opening, readable, utterly engaging.” ―Carole Horn, The Washington Post Book World
“This is a book that should be deeply disturbing to anyone who has given so much as a moment's thought to the state of American medicine. But it is much more . . . People are presented as [Fadiman] saw them, in their humility and their frailty--and their nobility.” ―Sherwin B. Nuland, The New Republic
“The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down changed how doctors see themselves and how they see their patients. Anne Fadiman celebrates the complexity and the individuality of the human interactions that make up the practice of medicine while simultaneously pointing out directions for change and breaking readers' hearts with the tragedies of cultural displacement, medical limitations, and futile good intentions.” ―Perri Klass, M.D., author of A Not Entirely Benign Procedure
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The culture expressed by the Hmong people is vastly different from that of Western culture, and even most Eastern culture and neighboring Asian countries. For example, there is a passage in the book that explains common gestures and social interactions that are considered inappropriate to the Hmong: “Doctors could also appear disrespectful if they tried to maintain friendly eye contact (which was considered invasive), touched the head of an adult without permission (grossly insulting), or beckoned with a crooked finger (appropriate only for animals). It was important to never to compliment a baby’s beauty out loud, lest a dab (an evil spirit) overhear and be unable to resist snatching its soul
The Hmong community in Merced, California are in desperate need of translators. Not only language translators, but more importantly, cultural translators. They need cultural liaisons to not only guide them through western culture, but to educate westerners about their culture. One thing I thought was very poignant, was a quote by a psychologist at Merced Community Outreach Services, by the name of Sukey Walker. She found a way to interact and communicate with the Hmong that was better than any of her American counterparts. She detailed one of her keys to success : “I have one rule. Before I do anything, I ask ‘Is it Okay?’”
This is a very real book. It is very heartbreaking, and very true to life. There was no happy ending or easy solution to the problems in this book. However, there is a certain amount of optimism expressed here, and it made me very hopeful and eager to see these cultural barriers deconstructed.
Before reading this book I have never heard anything about the Hmong culture. The writer does a good job at getting into the Hmong's way of thinking and how coming over to American can be quite a culture shock.
The book skips around a lot which can be a good or a bad thing depending on the style of reading you like. For example, one chapter will talk about the Hmong culture itself while the next will talk about the specific Hmong family and the chapter after that many jump to something different. This can be good because we are continually being fed information about the Hmong culture while reading the story, however, it may come across confusing to the reader. I personally would have rather seen a few chapters at the beginning explaining the Hmong culture and then delve into the story of Lia Lee and her family without any interrupting chapters.
I would probably give this a five star, however besides the problem mentioned above, i also found this book to be repetitive when it came to describing the Hmong culture. For example, the issue of animal sacrifice comes up countless times throughout which I found unnecessary. It would have been easier just to have a section describing the Hmong's practice of animal sacrifice to give us an understanding and after that only bring it up in the story when it is part of the actual story.
There are many things that can be taken from this book such as culture sensitivity, how even those with good intentions can mess things up, and how shocking it can be to adjust to one culture and then become part of a culture that is entirely different.
The story itself is based on a true story that has apparently had a strong impact on the medical world. For this I give the author much credit. I also give her credit in her sensitivity discussing the topic and how she was able to engage the interest of the reader when telling the story.
I recommend this book for those that will be working with diverse populations whether it be in the medical field, field of psychology, or any other such field.