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 January 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.
on February 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.
on January 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? How does this relate to the story. But maybe for adults this seemed more relevant.
Overall, this is a great book, and I would recomend it to anyone that is mature enough to enjoy it.
(Sorry Jim, I can't write anymore)
on January 14, 2004
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. For example, in Lia's case he parents didn't give her allif anyof the medications the doctors prescribed. Lia's parents thought they were giving her too much Western medicine. They thought it would be better to give her a little Western medicine and some Hmong medicine. Lia ended up being put in a foster home by the government because the doctors said her parents were abusing her since they weren't giving her the medicine prescribed.
This book really makes clear the distance and tension between the Hmong people in Merced and the resident doctors. Neither of the two really likes the other and since they have a language barrier, each thinks the other is stupid. The author makes the reader understand that the Hmong and the doctors don't have a clear way of communicating help each other out. It is rare in Merced that there are interpreters there to translate for doctors & patients and to help them understand the other's culture. When Fadiman interviews the doctors that took care of Lia, they talked about the hard times when they didn't have an interpreter in the hospital. The Hmong people all tried to speak as much English as they could and tried to show the doctor what they knew. But the doctors didn't know a word of Hmongwhich is strange, since the majority of patients they take care of are Hmong and didn't take the time to try to explain things in a way their patients might understand. I think in order for the author Anne Fadiman to write this book, she had to get an interpreter that was bicultural and bilingual so they could not only translate the words, but to help Anne say the right things in the presence of the Hmong people.
The way Fadiman wrote the book, she made the reader understand the frustrations she had dealing with the two different cultures. In a way, both the Hmong and the doctors seemed to be arrogant because they didn't want to learn the other culture. The doctors believed the Hmong should learn Western medicine because they were now living in the United States and not Laos. The Hmong have always been a people that try to keep their culture going. They don't purposely put themselves in situations where they have to adjust to others' standards. That is why they have always run away from a culture that is trying to change them. In this case the Hmong were more or less forced to reside in the U.S. and if they would have known that this country would try and make them blend in, they would have avoided the move at all costs. Fadiman shows the struggle of the two cultures clashing when she interviews the different sides. When she interviews the doctors that took care of Lia, they talked about the hard times when they didn't have an interpreter in the hospital. The Hmong people all tried to speak as much English as they could and tried to show the doctor what they knew. But the doctors didn't take the time to try and explain things in a way their patients would understand.
Overall, the book was an opening to the Hmong culture. It showed how people need to try to understand one another and not be narrow-minded.
on January 6, 2004
This book was recommended to me when I planned a trip to Southeast Asia - where a highlight was a visit to a Hmong village.
The book is important on several levels:
I agree with the physician who calls it "must reading" for all doctors - and am giving it to my nephew, a pre-med student. All medical and social workers who must deal with cross-cultural issues, or with immigrants (especially those who don't speak English or come from very different cultures), will learn a great deal from "The Spirit Catches You..."
In this global age, the book is an important cautionary tale about tragic misunderstandings due to cultural, religious, and language differences between well-meaning people.
And the book is a fascinating introduction to Hmong culture and history, which particularly interested me because my California community was one of the early areas where the Hmong refugees settled after the Vietnam war.
One correction to the review "As a Hmong-American": This book is so well-written that it may seem like a novel, but it is A TRUE STORY. Truth is, at least in this case, far more compelling than any novel might be.
on December 3, 2003
The Spirit catches you and you fall down
The story is of a family from the county of Laos (right next to Vietnam and Thailand) that comes to the state of California in the late 1980s. They have thirteen children both boys and girls that were all born in Laos, but they were expecting their fourteenth child who was born in Merced California (the place where they chose to live).
Their fourteenth child, yet another daughter named Lia had a serve case a epilepsy; her parents, Foua and Nao Kao lived right next to an American hospital called MCMC and they brought her there every time Lia had a seizure, but there one problem, the parents didn't speak English or understand it, so Lia's illness was diagnosed many times as a different sickness other than epilepsy.
The parents and the doctors tried to figure out what exactly what was wrong with Lia, but since there was a language barrier, it was tough to say what exactly what illness plagued Lia. Foua and Nao Kao knew exactly what illness Lia had, but it was hard explaining to the doctors and there were no interpreters at MCMC (Merced County Medical Center) at the time Foua and Nao Kao brought Lia to the hospital.
The message of the book is that it is tough to teach an immigrant English if they've never heard or studied the language before; the message of this book also points out that there are many countries around the globe who aren't as sophisticated as the United States, no everybody in the world knows how to speak English or even read or write in their own language if the place where they live doesn't have a proper educational system.
The author, Anne Fadiman wrote this book to show the cultural difference/cultural clash between the Hmong people of the country of Laos and Americans or for that matter, any immigrant who comes to the United States with their family and can't communicate because they can't speak the native language of English. She also wrote the book to show the comparison of how modern medicine takes care of Americans and how the Hmong prefer to take care of themselves and the people in their clans by using herbs and medicines found in nature.
Anne Fadiman also wrote the book to show a little bit of how poor American healthcare can be when it comes to immigrants because they may not understand English, there may not be any interpreters to translate their language in English for an American doctor or the immigrant may feel offended with some of the stuff that the hospitals are doing to their child or loved one who is sick and they may prefer to heal the person who is in their clan or family the way that they were taught to by their grandparents or village elders. Or else, immigrants may think that American doctors or just Americans in general are rude and extremely mean if they're offended by what the doctors are doing.
I truly enjoyed the book because it shows that we as Americans sometimes think too highly of ourselves and we don't worry about how immigrants who have never been to the United States before will feel when they first get here. I'm a ninth grader and go to a school called New Roads that really is diverse in its population and the teachers there want us to see history from all view points, which is an interesting perspective. This book really relates to what I'm now learning in History class; we've been learning about all sorts Cultural Anthropology starting with Early Civilizations.
The Cultural Anthropology is very interesting because through this book and the material that I've studied in class, I've learned that it is hard to be a person from another country who emigrates from their native country to live in a country that is around the other half of the world because of the poor economy of their country or because of war or anything else that could be disrupting the lives of other people around the world.
This book is a truly excellent read, and I recommend it to any one who is studying Cultural Anthropology in their school history class because it shows how tough immigrants are and how bold and brave there are to leave the country that they've been born in and venture to the far reaches of the Earth to find a place to live, but it also shows how both immigrants, if they are sick and American doctors can work to solve a problem if they work together as a team.
The only way to let immigrants see that American doctors are here to help them get healthy, not make them sick; the American hospitals also need to make their faculties more multi-cultural and have people who are bilingual in many different languages so that immigrants don't have to struggle to communicate with American doctors and get the health care that they deserve if anybody in their family is sick.
on October 9, 2003
It took me nine months to finally finish this book. It is easy to put down and at times I wondered if I really cared to pick it back up. The story of the Hmong child takes about half of this 288 page book. At that point I was left wondering why she was telling this girl's story and what could she possibly have left to say that would take the rest of the book to say. Well...the first half is used to set up the doctor bashing that dominates the second half of the book. She painstakingly teased every medical record and used out of context quotes form medical texts and journals to paint physicians as uncaring eggheads with no interest in the patient and his culture, only in the disease that has occupied the patient's body. This is all done in perfect 20-20 hindsight, which is rather a cheap shot. She obviously devoted years to researching the Hmong in America to write this book and finds it amazing that physicians are not as knowlegeable as she on Hmong culture, not apparently appreciating that doctors treat people from hundreds of cultures, not just Hmong, or hispanic, or Native American, or punk, or Hell's Angel. Physicians really do their very best to accomodate them all.
The reader should realize this is a book about the Hmong in America in the 1980's. This author has apparently never been to Laos and I felt myself thinking how much better the book could have been if she had been able to give some genuine insight into the contrast between the level of happiness and standard of living between the Hmong now living in America and the Hmong that returned to Laos. I may be an uncaring doctor, but I at least care enough to have visited Thailand and Laos.
on May 2, 2003
"The Spirit Catches You" is about a young Hmong girl suffering from severe seizures and the cultural clash between her American doctors and her parents.
The book is wonderfully written and painfully sad. One one level, it is hard to read -- not just because it is sad -- because it is frustrating. You want the child to get treatment so that she can live as normal of a life as possible, but you can also understand the way things appear to the poor parents who see things through the eyes of another culture. Plus with their language barrier the poor parents don't even understand WHY the horrible things their daughter is going through are for the better, according to the doctors.
I read this book for a college course, but it would have been one that I would have appreciated in high school, as well. It is a learning tool on both an anthropological and sociological level. Good for helping people to understand that culture differences are more than "I am right" and "you are wrong"; this book allows you to see an issue from multiple sides and see things aren't always that simple.
on February 17, 2003
I was assigned to read this book 3 years ago while attending School for my Bachelors in Nursing. I really wanted to side with the Medical side - that is my education. But how my attitudes have changed. I have since read this book 6 times and each time I ask myself new questions and analyze my own feelings over and over again. I have recommended it to many of my nursing students, having found recently that the other nursing instructors have assigned it for them to read. Bravo! How desperatly we as healthcare providers could use some education on dealing with such different practices as the Hmong and using those techniques to interact with other cultural practices as well.
I will not go into a description of the book - read other reviews for that - but I will say that the author did an amazing amount of research and really knows her stuff when it comes to history and culture. I love the way she intertwines the story of Lia Lee with history both recent and ancient. This brings the story alive and allows the reader an ever deepening understanding of the Hmong and why they are the way they are.
Should be assigned reading for EVERY healthcare provider!