by Anne Fadiman
Fadiman has written a fantastic book about the clash between two cultures met in the arena of medicine. In 1980 Lia Lee was born in the United States, daughter of a Hmong refugee family from the remote mountains of Indochina. At three months old, she developed symptoms of epilepsy. Her parents viewed this condition as indication that her soul had been stolen by a malevolent spirit. Her team of doctors at the Merced Community Medical Center prescribed medicine that could halt her seizures and enable her to grow up to live a relatively normal life. But her parents did not understand the doctors' diagnosis, disagreed with their treatment, routinely failed to administer her medications and preferred to treat her with traditional Hmong healing methods. Both the doctors and her parents cared deeply for Lia, but their complete failure to understand each other led to a disastrous series of events and tragedy.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is a skillful woven story built of Lia's complex medical case, her family's stubborn solidarity and an exploration into Hmong culture, history and folklore. The author has imbued it with patience and irony. It presents both sides of the story fairly, looking in equal depth at the doctors' concerns and the deep-rooted beliefs of the Hmong.
The final, precisely apt conclusion rings true:
"If you can't see that your own culture has its own set of interests, emotions, and biases, how can you expect to deal successfully with someone else's?" (p.261)
Rating: 4/5 ........ 341 pages, 1997
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