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Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down [Paperback]

Anne Fadiman
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (144 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 1 2000
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction

When three-month-old Lia Lee Arrived at the county hospital emergency room in Merced, California, a chain of events was set in motion from which neither she nor her parents nor her doctors would ever recover. Lia's parents, Foua and Nao Kao, were part of a large Hmong community in Merced, refugees from the CIA-run "Quiet War" in Laos. The Hmong, traditionally a close-knit and fiercely people, have been less amenable to assimilation than most immigrants, adhering steadfastly to the rituals and beliefs of their ancestors. Lia's pediatricians, Neil Ernst and his wife, Peggy Philip, cleaved just as strongly to another tradition: that of Western medicine. When Lia Lee Entered the American medical system, diagnosed as an epileptic, her story became a tragic case history of cultural miscommunication.

Parents and doctors both wanted the best for Lia, but their ideas about the causes of her illness and its treatment could hardly have been more different. The Hmong see illness aand healing as spiritual matters linked to virtually everything in the universe, while medical community marks a division between body and soul, and concerns itself almost exclusively with the former. Lia's doctors ascribed her seizures to the misfiring of her cerebral neurons; her parents called her illness, qaug dab peg--the spirit catches you and you fall down--and ascribed it to the wandering of her soul. The doctors prescribed anticonvulsants; her parents preferred animal sacrifices.

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From Amazon

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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
If Lia Lee had been born in the highlands of northwest Laos, where her parents and twelve of her brothers and sisters were born, her mother would have squatted on the floor of the house that her father had built from ax-hewn planks thatched with bamboo and grass. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes Prejudice Isn't Evil, Only Ignorant May 2 2004
I may be too optimistic, but I've grown to believe that bigotry isn't always practiced by bad people, but often by good people ignorant of cultures other than their own. This was certainly the situation in the case that Anne Fadiman writes about. People from two cultures, each believing they are correct, clash and a small child gets caught in the middle.
Prejudice begins to break down in the light of true communication. Unfortunately for this child, true communcation was too big of a hurdle to cross. Fortunately for the reader, we can learn from reading about this experience.
This book will touch your heart and open your mind. The lessons learned within its pages will stay with you. This book is worth purchasing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind opening experience Jan. 15 2004
Prior to reading Fadiman's book, I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the Hmong culture. One of my most treasured friends is Hmong - we met in college and Yer has always amazed me with her all American appearance and attitude that can be so totally overcome with her Hmong culture. Reading "The Spirit Catches You..." brought this world so much closer. While it's very easy to read, and the story grabs you and pulls you in, it is also a crash course in Hmong culture and history. Unless you know someone who is Hmong, it's hard to understand how tangible their culture, language, history etc... is all tied together. Fadiman does a great job of tracing the tangled knot of many of these threads. You won't come away from this intriguing novel without feeling like your world view has just burst threw another layer of understanding.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a fascinating book! Feb. 11 2004
While this book's main focus is a study of the differences between the Hmong culture, and American society, there is much about little Lia as well. Lia was born with a seizure disorder. Her family had a heartbreaking time, transplanting to the United States, and being expected to conform to an incomprehensible new culture, while trying to help their precious baby girl. My heart goes out to the Lee family. I found this deep and complex book fascinating. I've read it four times.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Hmong American reader here March 20 2004
By A Customer
People who are not familiar with Hmong Americans may read this book and assume that all/most Hmong Americans are like the Lee family and other Hmong families presented in the book. The events that took place with the Lee family occured when Hmong first arrived here in the late 70s/early 80s. These days, the majority of Hmong Americans are a lot more Americanized compared to the early 1980s. Although the assimilation has been slow compared to other first generation Americans, things have changed a lot since then. For example, many Hmong no longer practice the traditional Hmong religion and have converted to Christianity. The Lee family was a lot more traditional than most Hmong American families in the early 80s. I just wanted to clear this up.
Having said that, I enjoyed this book because it does the impossible. Fadiman is able to make the reader better understand the traditional Hmong culture, a culture that seems irrational and is opposite of western culture. It doesn't mean that you will agree with the Hmong culture but you will better understand it, including why the family did/did not do certain things to help their daughter who had epilepsy. I also believe that this book is important for those who work with the public because it promotes sensitivity towards other cultures. The doctors and the family had the very best intentions for the daughter who had epilepsy but the cultural barriers were just too much.
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4.0 out of 5 stars From a kids point of view Jan. 22 2004
I read this book for a World Civilization class, and wasn't really looking forward to it. I was suprized when I actually started to like it. This book is the ultimate culture clash. It's interesting to see what human nature really is, if you don't understand something, you find it annoying and stupid. Instead of trying to learn and step out of your normal comfort zone. In "The Spirit Catches you and you Fall Down", the doctors and other people that worked at the hospital thought that the Hmong people were stupid, and the Hmong thought that the Americans were stupid.
For a person my age, I'm not sure I would recomend this book. I'm sure they would learn from in, but not sure they would find this as a fun read. The only reason I would of ever read this book is because I had to for my class. But if people want to learn, and have an alright time doing it, I would recomend this book. But for people who like fiction, I don't think that you'll like this at all.
For Adults, I would recomend this book to anyone. It really is like nothing that I've ever read before. Which is probably because I've never really written anything like this before. As I said before, this book would be great for anyone interested in human nature. These two cultures knew nothing about eachother, but just because of the barrier the first thing that they did was not have any respect for eachother. (This has to be 500 words....)
This is a really well written book, but I think that I gave it four stars instead of 5 because at times it got a little bit boring. Maybe this is because I'm not really that mature, but I fell that the writer knew too much information about the topic. And gave it all to us. Sometimes when I was reading it felt like I was being force fed information. Like why do I need to know this?
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Fantastic book! I couldn't put it down.
Published 1 month ago by Kris
5.0 out of 5 stars Life Changing Read
After this ethnography/narrative about Hmong living in LA, you will never think the same again about cross cultural perspectives on health and healing again. Read more
Published 14 months ago by JVines
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be required reading!
One of the best books I have read. An amazing analysis of one little girls journey of illness and care, one family's amazing story, one community's struggles to adapt and sruvive... Read more
Published on May 12 2011 by Edison Chen
5.0 out of 5 stars Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down
Excellent book. A classic and a must for those working in the Healthcare field. Gives insights into cultural issues which influence the care experience.
Published on Nov. 21 2010 by Anita Punamiya
4.0 out of 5 stars The need for empathy
As a student looking to go to medical school, I found this book to be an eye opening experience. It really points out the need for empathy for other cultures, languages and... Read more
Published on May 30 2004 by DeAnna F.
5.0 out of 5 stars eye-opening
This is such a beautifully-written, captivating, eye-opening book about a clash of two cultures: American and Hmong. Read more
Published on March 18 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read
This book is a must read. It is thought provoking, educational and hard to describe. I kept wanting to place judgement on the doctors, then I wanted to place judgement on The... Read more
Published on Feb. 23 2004 by C. Davidson
5.0 out of 5 stars spirit catches you and u..
came in good condition, i bought it for a class really but its a good book anyway
Published on Feb. 13 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Interesting, Even for a Hmong
I am an educated Hmong woman. I was motivated to read this book by my older brother who has a degree in Anthropology. Read more
Published on Jan. 15 2004 by "bongia"
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