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The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures
July 2016: Biography Memoir > The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down / Anne Fadiman - 4****

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Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 6283 comments The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down – Anne Fadiman

Subtitle: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures

The 150,000 Hmong refugees who came to the United States in the late 1970s arrived in a country and culture that could not have been more foreign to them. The Lee family had escaped their native village in the hills of Laos and settled in Merced California. In July 1982 Foua Yang gave birth to her fourteenth child; Foua and her husband Nao Kao Lee would name the little girl Lia. She was a loved child, tenderly cared for and pampered as the “baby” of the family.

When she was about three months old, however, Lia had a seizure. Her parents believed this was caused when her older sister had slammed the front door of their apartment, drawing the attention of a spirit who had caught Lia’s soul. The Hmong call this condition quag dab peg and consider it something of an honor to have these spirits possessing the child; such a person might even grow up to become a shaman. Still, the frequency and severity of the seizures worried Foua and Nao Kao enough that they took Lia to the Merced County Medical Center Emergency Room. There the lack of a common language or trained interpreters, and the clash of cultures led to disastrous results.

This is a fascinating medical mystery, and a balanced exploration of two very different points of view. No one acted with malice, everyone wanted what was best for Lia, but there was no way for the two opposing sides – Lia’s parents and community vs the doctors and social workers – could come to agreement. And the person who suffered was Lia.

I thought the book could have used more editing. Perhaps Fadiman believed that the reader needed considerable repetition to get the message (and she may be right about that), but I really didn’t’ need to be told – again – that the Lees believed a spirit was the cause of Lia’s problems, or that they believe the medicine made her worse, or that the doctors thought the Lees were difficult or poor parents.

Still, I was really caught up in the story, and appreciated learning more about the Hmong culture. I’m looking forward to my F2F book club’s discussion on this book.

message 2: by Jen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jen | 1545 comments I loved this book. We read it in grad school and was relevant for us because of the ways in which cultural differences may impact treatment

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