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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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Lia Lee was born in 1981 to a family of recent Hmong immigrants, and soon developed symptoms of epilepsy. By 1988 she was living at home but was brain dead after a tragic cycle of misunderstanding, overmedication, and culture clash: "What the doctors viewed as clinical efficiency the Hmong viewed as frosty arrogance." The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions, written with the deepest of human feeling. Sherwin Nuland said of the account, "There are no villains in Fadiman's tale, just as there are no heroes. People are presented as she saw them, in their humility and their frailty--and their nobility." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From School Library Journal
YA?A compelling anthropological study. The Hmong people in America are mainly refugee families who supported the CIA militaristic efforts in Laos. They are a clannish group with a firmly established culture that combines issues of health care with a deep spirituality that may be deemed primitive by Western standards. In Merced, CA, which has a large Hmong community, Lia Lee was born, the 13th child in a family coping with their plunge into a modern and mechanized way of life. The child suffered an initial seizure at the age of three months. Her family attributed it to the slamming of the front door by an older sister. They felt the fright had caused the baby's soul to flee her body and become lost to a malignant spirit. The report of the family's attempts to cure Lia through shamanistic intervention and the home sacrifices of pigs and chickens is balanced by the intervention of the medical community that insisted upon the removal of the child from deeply loving parents with disastrous results. This compassionate and understanding account fairly represents the positions of all the parties involved. The suspense of the child's precarious health, the understanding characterization of the parents and doctors, and especially the insights into Hmong culture make this a very worthwhile read.?Frances Reiher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Fadiman alternates chapters about Lia with chapters on the history and culture of the Hmong people. Interwoven in Lia's story is the story of her people. The parallel can be drawn that the spirit catches the Hmong people with wars and threats of assimilation, and in response the Hmong eschew resistance and migrate. Most of Merced's Hmong population came to the U.S.
Lia's parents wanted "a little medicine and a little txib" (p. 110.) While medical care at MCMC was provided at no charge, Lia's family spent large sums on buying amulets, having a tvix neeb perform ceremonies, and sacrificing chickens, pigs, and even a cow. Foua would grow herbs and make special concoctions both for feeding to Lia as well as bathing her. The author was privileged to be present when the family sacrificed a pig in their living room in order to seek her wandering soul and bring it back to Lia.
From the doctors' perspective Neil Ernst said, "I felt it was important for these Hmongs to understand that there were certain elements of medicine that we understood better than they did and that there were certain rules they had to follow with their kids' lives" (p. 59.)
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down was both thought-provoking and emotionally rewarding. It is recommend for those who enjoy a well-told story, as well as those working in public health fields, interested in cross-cultural transitions, or who have special interest in the Hmong people.
Anne Fadiman discussed Lia Lee with medical anthropologist Arthur Kleinman. His observations brings out the crucial point (p. 260), "You need to understand that as powerful an influence as the culture of the Hmong patient and her family is on this case, the culture of biomedicine is equally powerful. If you can't see that your own culture has its own set of interests, emotions, and biases, how can you expect to deal successfully with someone else's culture?"
Where is Lia Lee now? In a Newsweek article in 2005, then 22 year old Lia was still in a persistent vegetative state, still cared for at home by her careful and loving mother.
I'm sure it would also be beneficial for anyone in a social service field (social work, etc).
Beyond the insights it provided, it was a pleasure to read, and was very well written.
I felt this book was extremely emotive and there were times when I really felt like shaking the doctors at the time because of what I perceived as an almost deliberate action on their part to make a people of a different culture and belief system to bend and acquiesce to that of the Western world. I found myself sympathising very strongly with Lia and her family, but I also felt for the medical people in spite of their reported behaviour and approach to not only this family, but also to other Hmong families.
This book is a very dense and intense read but is certainly worth the effort made. The afterword left the reader with a sense of hope and joy which was very much needed. It was both a sad and a happy book. Words really don't do it justice. It really needs to be read from cover to cover to be able to appreciate what was going on for all parties. I certainly don't regret reading this book and I would recommend it to adults who have an interest in learning about other people, their culture and beliefs.