The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures

Anne Fadiman

Language: English

Pages: 368

ISBN: 0374533407

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down explores the clash between a small county hospital in California and a refugee family from Laos over the care of Lia Lee, a Hmong child diagnosed with severe epilepsy. Lia's parents and her doctors both wanted what was best for Lia, but the lack of understanding between them led to tragedy. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Current Interest, and the Salon Book Award, Anne Fadiman's compassionate account of this cultural impasse is literary journalism at its finest. The current edition, published for the book's fifteenth anniversary, includes a new afterword by the author that provides updates on the major characters along with reflections on how they have changed Fadiman's life and attitudes.

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known to the Hmong, who regard it with ambivalence. On the one hand, it is acknowledged to be a serious and potentially dangerous condition. Tony Coelho, who was Merced’s congressman from 1979 to 1989, is an epileptic. Coelho is a popular figure among the Hmong, and a few years ago, some local Hmong men were sufficiently concerned when they learned he suffered from qaug dab peg that they volunteered the services of a shaman, a txiv neeb, to perform a ceremony that would retrieve Coelho’s errant

your doors. You can practice any religion you want. There’s such complete freedom of the press that our newspapers can even attack our leaders. If the government feels they need your land, they cannot just take it away from you. Most importantly, every one of you has the same opportunity as the person sitting next to you. My father never could have dreamed that his son would be a judge. Your children can be doctors. I just get carried away when I talk about how wonderful it is to be a citizen of

Margaret Ogden on driver’s license examinations. “Gang Pak” contains information on Merced’s youth gangs. Pat McNally and Daniel Silva, “Asians, Game Laws in Conflict,” reports on Hmong hunting and fishing. Mark Arax, “A Final Turf War,” describes the Tollhouse Cemetery where “CIA veteran” Chua Cha Cha is buried. The most authoritative source on Hmong education is Wendy Walker-Moffat, The Other Side of the Asian American Success Story. See also “The Other Side of the Asian Academic Success Myth”

story. That man, every day he had to sign a confession accepting you are wrong by collaborating with the Americans. Every day his confession became better. After two years, three years, five years, that speech became part of himself. Before he was in the camp he had a very strong personality. After ten years it changed him. The camp has completely broken his personality.” While two or three thousand Hmong were being “reeducated” in Pathet Lao camps—an exercise in coerced submission that violated

hugs, tug her ears, and then, joined by Mai and True, lie on top of her in a heap: three squirming, giggling children and one silent one. In Laos, Foua had bathed her children on the dirt floor, using a small bowl to pour the stream water that she had warmed on the fire. Now she bathed Lia in the porcelain tub every day—on hot days, twice. “I usually get in with her,” she said, “because by the time I’m done I’m all wet anyway.” After the bath, she bent and extended Lia’s arms and legs, as a

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