The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down - Anne Fadiman

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

By Anne Fadiman

  • Release Date: 1998-09-30
  • Genre: Anthropology
Score: 4.5
From 166 Ratings


Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction

When three-month-old Lia Lee Arrived at the county hospital emergency room in Merced, California, a chain of events was set in motion from which neither she nor her parents nor her doctors would ever recover. Lia's parents, Foua and Nao Kao, were part of a large Hmong community in Merced, refugees from the CIA-run "Quiet War" in Laos. The Hmong, traditionally a close-knit and fiercely people, have been less amenable to assimilation than most immigrants, adhering steadfastly to the rituals and beliefs of their ancestors. Lia's pediatricians, Neil Ernst and his wife, Peggy Philip, cleaved just as strongly to another tradition: that of Western medicine. When Lia Lee Entered the American medical system, diagnosed as an epileptic, her story became a tragic case history of cultural miscommunication.

Parents and doctors both wanted the best for Lia, but their ideas about the causes of her illness and its treatment could hardly have been more different. The Hmong see illness aand healing as spiritual matters linked to virtually everything in the universe, while medical community marks a division between body and soul, and concerns itself almost exclusively with the former. Lia's doctors ascribed her seizures to the misfiring of her cerebral neurons; her parents called her illness, qaug dab peg--the spirit catches you and you fall down--and ascribed it to the wandering of her soul. The doctors prescribed anticonvulsants; her parents preferred animal sacrifices.


  • The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

    By 1stBillieJ
    Ms. Fadiman gently gained my trust as she led me to love those whose story she masterfully shares. From the beginning it was apparent Lia Lee's life would be hard to read and would be for me as Ms. Fadiman says, "that of the many sadnesses in the world that I wish could be righted, your life is the one I think of most often in the small hours of the night.” As a high school teacher I've been blessed to teach and care for many immigrant teens whose stories make much better sense to me now having read and been forever changed by this story. Thank you through many tears.
  • Amazing book. Must read.

    By Hollycarrie1970
    Amazing book.
  • Hmmm...

    By DesolateStar
    I don't really know what to think of it. The message of the book is about cultural differences and how we should accept and try to understand other cultures. I got pretty bored reading all the details of Lia's medical history, especially all the different prescriptions. The author gave way too much information about childbirth that was really completely irrelevant to Lia's story. Also there was a bunch of boring stuff about why the Hmong went to Merced, California. But what bugged me the most was that the author praised everything about Hmong culture except that they liked to have large families. Obviously she cannot accept the idea of not using birth control and gives an impression that the Hmong are inferior because most of them don't use it. If it's a woman's body and it's her choice why is it unacceptable for her to choose to have ten or more kids?
  • The spirit catches you and you fall down

    By Man jenson
    Great read!
  • Must Read

    By Bobasmom
    This story takes place where I'm from and my family also struggled with western medicine and our ancestral shamanism ways. My sister was born with a hole in her heart and the doctors told my parents she needed a heart transplant or would die. The Hmong people do not believe in transplants. This was mid 80's where many doctors still could not understand why or how a Hmong parent didn't want to help their child. She got some western care at the Fresno children's hospital but not what she needed medically and sadly, her heart gave up at the age of 2, the night before my 6th birthday. I I'll never forget that night. Just like this family, my family truly believed they were doing the best thing for their child whether the doctors believed it or not. The two cultures just can't find an even ground.
  • Great

    Wonderful book about 2 strong cultures. This is a must read for all medical professionals.
  • Seriously well written non-fic

    By Z Reader
    Believe it or not, this is a real page turner about the meeting (read - total train wreck) of 2 cultures: American medicine & the Hmong. I learned so much.