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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 – 1 Sep 1998


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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux Inc (1 Sept. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374525641
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374525644
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.4 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 522,974 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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From the Publisher

More Praise:
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction

Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Current Interest

A Salon Book Award Winner

Boston Book Review 1997 Ann Rea Jewell Non-Fiction Prize

A New York Times Notable Book

A Best Book of the Year (People, Newsday, Glamour, and the Detroit Free Press)

Finalist Pen / Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction

"Ms. Fadiman tells her story with a novelist's grace, playing the role of cultural broker, comprehending those who do not comprehend each other and perceiving what might have been done or said to make the outcome different." --Richard Bernstein, The New York Times

"Fadiman describes with extraordinary skill the colliding worlds of Western medicine and Hmong culture." --The New Yorker

"This fine book recounts a poignant tragedy ... It has no heroes or villains, but it has an abundance of innocent suffering, and it most certainly does have a moral ... [A] sad, excellent book." --Melvin Konner, The New York Times Book Review

"An intriguing, spirit-lifting, extraordinary exploration of two cultures in uneasy coexistence ... A wonderful aspect of Fadiman's book is her even-handed, detailed presentation of these disparate cultures and divergent views--not with cool, dispassionate fairness but rather with a warm, involved interest that sees and embraces both sides of each issue . . . Superb, informal cultural anthropology -- eye-opening, readable, utterly engaging." --Carole Horn, The Washington Post Book World

"Every once in a rare while a nonfiction book comes along that is so good I want to somehow make it required reading ... The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down explores issues of culture, immigration, medicine, and the war in Vietnam with such skill that it's nearly impossible to put down ... I finished [it] saddened but enlightened." --Linnea Lannon, Detroit Free Press

"This is a book that should be deeply disturbing to anyone who has given so much as a moment's thought to the state of American medicine. But it is much more ... People are presented as [Fadiman] saw them, in their humility and their frailty--and their nobility." --Sherwin B. Nuland, The New Republic

"Anne Fadiman's phenomenal first book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, brings to life the enduring power of parental love in an impoverished refugee family struggling to protect their seriously ill infant daughter and ancient spiritual traditions from the tyranny of welfare bureaucrats and intolerant medical technocrats." --Al Santoli, The Washington Times

"A unique anthropological study of American society." --Louise Steinman, Los Angeles Times

"When the Lees hedged their bets in 1982 in Merced by taking Lia to the hospital after one of her seizures, everybody lost. Fadiman's account of why Lia failed to benefit over the years from Western medicine is a compelling story told in achingly beautiful prose." --Steve Weinberg, Chicago Tribune

"A deeply humane anthropological document written with the grace of a lyric and the suspense of a thriller." --Abby Frucht, Newsday

"Fadiman's meticulously researched nonfiction book exudes passion and humanity without casting a disparaging eye at either the immigrant parents, who don't speak English, or the frustrated doctors who can't decipher the baby's symptoms ... The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down conveys one family's story in a balanced, compelling way." --Jae-Ha Kim, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Fadiman's sensitive reporting explores a vast cultural gap." --People Magazine

"Compellingly written, from the heart and from the trenches. I couldn't wait to finish it, then reread it and ponder it again. It is a powerful case study of a medical tragedy." --David H. Mark, Journal of the American Medical Association

"The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is Fadiman's haunting account, written over a nine-year-period, of one very sick girl in Merced, California ... What happens to Lia Lee is both enlightening and deeply disturbing." --Kristin Van Ogtrop, Vogue

"Fadiman gives us a narrative as compelling as any thriller, a work populated by the large cast of characters who fall in love with Lia. This is a work of passionate advocacy, urging our medical establishment to consider how their immigrant patients conceptualize health and disease. This astonishing book helps us better understand our own culture even as we learn about another--and changes our deepest beliefs about the mysterious relationship between body and soul." -Elle

"The other day, I picked up a book I had no intention of buying. Eight hours later, having lifted my head only long enough to pay for the book and drive home, I closed Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down and started calling friends ... This is an important book." --Wanda A. Adams, The Honolulu Advertiser

From the Author

A quick thought on "The Spirit..."
Just to let all know, "The Spirit...", along with all of its fans has changed my life. Thank you. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Preacherdoc on 12 Nov. 2005
Format: Paperback
This is a very interesting book lent to me by a friend recently. It concerns the disastrous clinical course of a child from the Hmong people (of Laos) whose parents live in the USA (California) and who suffers from intractable seizures.
The parents come from a deeply spiritual society. They believe that seizures occur when one's soul is freed from the body by an evil spirit, and only resolve when the soul returns.
Epilepsy (their phrase for which is translated as The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down) marks their daughter out as special in their eyes, and that of their community. It makes her a potential shaman, as shamans have the power to cross over between the physical and spiritual world, and therefore confers status on the child, and by reflection, the family.
On the other hand, the emergency paediatric services have had to deal with a family they see as "backward", "stone-age", and, being non-English-speaking, hopelessly incompliant with one therapeutic manoeuvre after another.
What is interesting is that both sides are entirely convinced that they know what is best for the child. For example, to call her soul back (the treatment of choice for status epilepticus) involves a lengthy ceremony conducted by a shaman involving loud ritual chants and drumming and the sacrifice of live chickens. Understandably, the medics are reluctant to allow this in their PICU.
The parents feel alienated and hurt by the doctors, who keep promising to make the child well. They come to feel that "too much medicine" is what makes the child ill. They can't being back their daughter's soul without the ceremonies which they are prohibited from having.
The doctors feel frustrated and angry at the parents, whom they see as backward, uncaring and endlessly non-compliant.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 5 Nov. 1997
Format: Hardcover
I don't think I should be writing in here since I am a part of the book. This book was amazing! It took me two days to read it and of course I shed a few tears on the way. My sister, Lia Lee, is doing well although she will never be able to see the bright sunlight or the incredible stars that we see everyday and everynite. She is an incredible child with so much love and affection from her family and the many friends she have encountered during her hardships.
I was only 7 when all this happened, but I do recall everything from the door slamming incident to the day the doctors told my family that it was okay for her to come but she will not live pass 7 days. I will never forget that week or those many years of pain my family or the doctors had to go through.
This book has given me a better view of what can really happen when two different cultures have their own ways of interpreting medicine or life in general. We must understand that different cultures have different ways of curing a person and doctors have their policy they must follow. To avoid another incident like this, we must work together as a whole and not blame each other for not cooperating with one another. Lets hope this book tells us what can happen in the future if we don't work with this now.
Anne did a great job on this book! My family couldn't have ask for more. She has become a great friend of my family and we are greatful for it. Anne-thank you !
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 9 April 1999
Format: Hardcover
As I read The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, my reactions ranged from frustration with the tremendous cravasses in communication to furor at the rampant superior attitude of western medicine. Although many of the medical staff that treated Lia Lee made considerable attempt to understand her family's culture, this is not a common characteristic in most American communities. Rather, the doctors are considered (and consider themselves) all-knowing, and the long standing traditional rituals of non-Anglo cultures are considered hogwash. This book should be required reading for anyone who has the slightest possibility of working with families of different cultures: medical staff, psychologists, social workers, teachers. We all too readily assume that our western way is the best way, and our lack of understanding result in tragic cases such as Lia's, which might have turned out differently. Anne Fadiman's delicate treatment of these medical and cultural clashes is exemplary. The glowing reviews from "both sides of the fence" are proof positive.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 27 Oct. 1998
Format: Paperback
I can honestly say that this book is one of the best I have ever read. It is thoroughly researched, painfully objective, sublimely beautiful, and an important cultual study of the Hmong (Hmoob is the traditional spelling)in Merced County. As a life-long resident of Merced, California and an English instructor at Merced Community College, I have lived next to and worked directly with the Hmoob people my entire life. I thought that I knew this culture due to my life experience--was I ever wrong! Anne Fadiman illuminated the Hmoob people and their history in a way that made me truly understand how little I actually knew about them and how confusing their transition into American culture was (and still is). As I look at the Hmoob faces in my classrooms, I am filled with respect, admiration, and curiosity for these students. When I walk across our small campus or enter the local Wal-Mart and hear the Hmoob language being spoken, I am overcome with pride that the Hmoob people choose to live in Merced County. As Fadiman points out, our little town does indeed face cultural problems which arise due to the clash of belief systems. However, this book has done much in our community to bridge the cultural gap that exists between our two worlds--American and Hmoob. Thanks Fadiman for letting us know who we are!
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