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The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures Paperback – Sep 30 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition (Sept. 30 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374525641
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374525644
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.4 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 358 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (144 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #214,619 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

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

4.6 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By HonestOmnivore on Jan. 15 2004
Format: Paperback
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 By Rosemary Gwaltney on Feb. 11 2004
Format: Paperback
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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By A Customer on March 20 2004
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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By ana ramriez on Jan. 14 2004
Format: Paperback
The Book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is a very good book to read when you want to learn about how different our world is and the types of cultures there are. This book was mostly about how the Hmong people -a tribal people from Laos- deal with their lives in the U.S. and all the changes they can and can't make. It is based upon a family that emigrated from Laos and was then placed in Merced. Their youngest daughter was born with a severe, life-threatening case of epilepsy and throughout the book, the family struggles with the doctors at the Merced County Hospital and the treatment of their precious daughter.
It taught me that the things that I would normally find weird or wrong all have a lot of meaning behind them and that no one has the right to judge too quickly. The people in Merced didn't take the time to get to know any of the Hmong people and understand their way of life. If the locals, especially the doctor residents, took the time to understand why the Hmong did what they did, there wouldn't be so many misunderstandings between the two cultures. In Chapter 17 (titled "The Eight Questions"), a psychiatrist and medical anthropologist named Arthur Kleinman offers eight simple questions that doctors should ask their patient about what they thought their sickness was. Some of the questions are: What sickness does the patient have? How did they get this sickness? I think this was a smart thing for someone to make up to help the doctors understand where their patients are coming from. Most of the time the nurses and resident doctors think their patients are stupid and are bad at taking care of themselves and their families, when in reality, their patients are only doing what they know will help.
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