on March 20, 2004
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.
on June 11, 2002
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, is a novel about the collision between two cultures. A refugee Hmong family living in a small American town called Merced, had a child named Lia who is diagnosed with severe epilepsy. The doctors and the little girl's parents want what is best for her. Unfortunately for the girl, her parents do not understand the ways of American medicine and did not follow the instructions of the doctors, which led to the terrible tragedy that changed her for life.
Originally, I was assigned to read this book for my World Civilizations one class, while we were studying religion. When I first looked at the book, I thought that it would be quite boring, and that I was greatly going to dislike it. As I read on, I found this book to be quite interesting. The thing I disliked most about the book, was how it was it got quite repetitive. After the fist quarter of the book I felt that I had a good understanding of the book and that I did not have to read on. After a while, I said, "I get the point already!" This book was very descriptive, and had too much detail, which led me to get bored at points. But for the most part, I found the book to be interesting.
To me, the most interesting part was when Lia started to get better, they would give her less medicine, but when she got worse, they would double the dose. This struck me as interesting because with American or "Western" medicine, if you get better and stop taking the medicine, than you will get a horrible relapse that is worse than the original infection or illness. It was an unfortunate thing that Lia's parents did not understand the ways of American culture and American Medicine.
The Shamens, who tried treating Lia back in her homeland, tried animal sacrifices, and other sacred rituals to try and treat her, but none of them worked. Her parents continued to pay them, but there was still no luck. What I want to know, is why did her parents keep paying the Shamens and not get mad at them when their "treatments" and "rituals" did not work? This was the biggest question that I had throughout the whole book.
Lia's parents attribute her attacks of epilepsy to a slammed door when Lia was a baby. In the Hmong culture, if a baby or a young person hears a loud noise a spirit will come and you will loose your soul. The doctors who treated Lia knew little about Hmong culture, and they said that powerful drugs could fix her epilepsy. Little did they know the Hmong culture see connections between everything. Unlike us, the Hmong do not separate the mind from the body. The doctors struggled for a long time to try and figure out how they could get the message across to Lia's parents that they needed to keep her on the medicine in order for her to get better and not to have long term damage. Unfortunately, that message did not get across, and Lia now has been badly damaged for life.
Lia is now paralyzed for life and just sits in her bed all day. I do not think that it was Lia's parents, or the doctor's fault that Lia is in the condition that she is in today. I think that it is the fault of the two cultures colliding and the misunderstanding between them.
The Hmong did not understand English, and they did not understand anything about the American culture. This is an unfortunate thing, and I think that there needs to be a better way to communicate between different cultures.
Anne Fadiman does a great job writing this book. You get a great perspective from both sides of the "story." She has descriptively writes each event as the story goes along. I actually felt as though I was in the story. The only complaint that I had about this whole book, was that it was too long and after a while it gets extremely repetitive and boring. Other than that, I thought this book was very interesting, and I learned a lot about the Hmong culture.
on January 28, 2001
This is the second time I have read the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman. This book provided an excellent background to my cross cultural class for a trip we will be taking to Thailand. This book demonstrates many emotional aspects pertaining to life including pain of having a child taken away and the sadness of losing someone dear to you. Through all these emotions, the reader becomes acquainted with the Lee family and experiences both their triumphs and disappointments. As an American, I found myself questioning, the Lee's views on many of the medical issues. And at times I found myself wanting to shake them in order to make them comprehend how important the American medicine is to their child's life. But other times throughout the book I completely sympathize with family and their confusion with the United States system of dealing with things. They came here to experience freedom, but they have less freedom here, then they did at home. Everything they knew and loved has been flipped upside down in this foreign land. They are forced to live on welfare in a country where all of their former views topple. The society in Hmong depends on the elderly, they are the most respected. But when they come to America, the elders must rely on the younger children for they are the ones who can translate this foreign language back into their native tongue. So many things are new and different for them. I thought this book did an excellent job of educating the reader on the culture of the Hmong. The book introduced the different practices of the Hmong as well as demonstrating how they differed with those in the American culture. The separation between the two cultures to understand how lost the Lee family must have felt in a brand new country with a completely new culture. As a student interested in pursuing a medical future, I found this book incredibly interesting and disheartening at the same time. The doctors, although knowing everything about the medical system failed to save Lia's life due to the cultural differences. In my eyes the doctors were perfectly educated in how to treat the disease. But when it came to how to help the patient and the family they were seriously flawed in their skills. It is this lack of knowledge of other cultures and how to deal with people that killed Lia. While the doctors did everything they could to help the Lee's understand the daily medication for Lia, it still must have been hard to understand such a foreign idea. Instead of trying to understand the Hmong culture and ideas of treatment and incorporating them into their own treatment. I really enjoyed reading this book. Anne Fadiman did a good job of keeping the book interesting while still managing to educate the reader about the culture of the Hmong.
on January 26, 2001
My name is Seanalle Luafalemana and I attend Pacific University. I have read the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. It was a interesting book, because it deals with problems about how the Hmong will deal with the situtation and how the Americans deal with the situation. The book explains how the Lee family went through all this trial to save their daughters life. If I was put in this situation, I would want to do everything for my child. However,Hmong could not understand the language so it made it more difficult to understand what was going on with their daughther. The Lee's family went through so much medication that it was really upsetting for me. As a doctor, I would not give a child so much medication. But it also hurts when the American doctors want to help but the parents of Lia does not apreciate what they are doing to their daughter. Also in Chapter 10, it explains about the War. I did not like this chapter, because I was hurt that they had
to go through all the hiking, the swimming, and the starva tion. One part, it talks about how a baby was nursing from his dead mother, and a family just passed it and did nothing. That is really sad to see such people do that. But however, I feel that this book shows about how Hmong suffered, sacrifice they had to make, and their culture hertiage. I believe that this book was trying to tell viewers that we must accept different cultures and accept different ways of performing things. This book has helped me realize that my family is an important essential, and they help realize that I have goals and dreams that I can accomplish. By learning by others and accept others as who they are, not what ethnic back ground they are. Even though the book was a bit confusing, I have learned a lot.
on January 25, 2001
While reading the book I found myself very frustrated with both the doctors and Lia's parents. However, I enjoyed learning about the Hmong's culture and Lia's life. It saddened me to know such a young girl was caught in the middle of so much cultural confusion. Being from Hawaii my great grandparents and most of my friends parents and grand parents were all immigrants from Asia. This book made me really think about how my great grand parents must have felt when they got off the boat in Hawaii. I am sure it was not even close to the shock the Lee's must have experienced when they landed in Honolulu. I thought it was a great book not only because it educates you about the Hmong people but also because it shows us where we can improve our medical services. I love learning about other cultures and there differences compared to the American culture. There is one question from the book that really caught my attention. "Which is more important, the life or the soul?"(277) This question shows the difference between the doctors and the Hmong. I tried to answer this question myself but I could not. What is more important to you?
on July 28, 2000
I felt that this book was even handed in presenting both sides of this cultural/medical issue. At first, I thought this book meant for the esoteric members of the medical and Hmong communities. However, Anne Fadiman clearly provided the historical background and smoothly set up the cultural dilemma of this case study. I have to admit that this was my first time reading a book that explored the meticulous issues of "Westernized�Eversus natural or "cultural�Emedicine and healing. Although I found this book very interesting how the medical community practicing in this "melting pot�Eof diversity must learn to wear different lenses towards such cultural and medical anthropological quagmires. Yet, what Fadiman fails to mention in this book are possible solutions for the future so such medical and cultural beliefs are not violated. Overall, I strongly believe that book serves as a great introductory case study to examine in meticulous detail. Actually, this book was assigned to me for the course I am taking at Trinity College (Hartford, Connecticut) called Medical Anthropology, taught by the renowned anthropologist James A. Trostle. After reading The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down; A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, I have learned how we must learn to "expand our horizon�Eand see beyond what we have learned thus far. We must learn, understand, and accept other paradigms of healing that other cultures have previously established.
on March 22, 2000
I liked the story about the conflict between the Hmong family and Western medicine very much. The author gives fair treatment to all parties. However, I found myself impatient with the crisscrossing of the narrative. I think the book would have been superior had it been cut down in length. The background info on the Hmong, the Vietnam war and Air America, etc. is important but it took way too long to get the significant kernals of info. I can see why this text would be a challenge to edit but don't think the editors were up to the task.