Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by…

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (1997)

by Anne Fadiman

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,975811,922 (4.24)223

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 223 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 81 (next | show all)
A little Hmong girl who has seizures is taken to the hospital for treatment. It is the clashing of two cultures and two very different belief systems.

I was amazed that people even survive in this country without knowing how to read or write the language. The Hmong hold so tightly to their own culture that there is no place for any other at all. In this case, it's really sad - with no one really interpreting between the family and the doctors. The living conditions for these refugees is beyond belief, so many people and so little space. You feel for the Hmong, because they are mainly used to providing for themselves off the land, and they really don't have a chance to do that in this country.

A fascinating book. ( )
  bookwormteri | Mar 11, 2015 |
I found myself riveted to this story and though it was heartbreaking at times, I was fascinated and did not want to put it down. Disclosure here: I have 2 points of personal interest in this, from both the medical and the sociological perspectives: I have been a teacher in a school for physically and developmentally disabled kids, for over 25 years. I have had many students over the years with seizure disorder (aka, epilepsy), from the very mild to the very severe, and am familiar with the names of several of the medications mentioned in this story, as well as the manifestations of the various types of seizures, not to mention the controversies about some of them. I also have a degree in sociology although I have never worked in that field. I have occasionally wondered, over the years, if I should have gone into sociology or anthropology instead of education as cultures and cultural differences have always been a real interest of mine. I live in Toronto, one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world and have come face to face in my class and school, with some of the very issues that Fadiman illuminates in this book (language barriers, cultural customs and beliefs, etc).

This book is an exceptionally well-researched and fair presentation of both sides of the story, without getting bogged down in either sentimentality or bias. The story itself is really heartbreaking but although it was written nearly 20 years ago, it is surely a tale that repeats itself day in and day out, everywhere that immigrants live and the locals can't learn to be open-minded enough to see the whole picture, the whole person. People are a sum of their cultures, beliefs, and traditions and each of those aspects is essential to successful communication and acceptance. Fadiman spent years in the writing of this story and how she managed to gain the access and trust of the very many people involved, is remarkable. Her footnotes throughout the book are excellent for explaining and expanding on certain words, concepts or facts. But she also took the time, at the end of the book, to outline in almost 20 pages, her further notes on her sources for each chapter. She also has 2 pages at the end on Notes on Hmong Orthography, Pronunciation and Quotations, which was not actually necessary but still tremendously interesting. There are over 10 pages of Bibliography and 2 and a half pages of Acknowledgements. Such a thorough and wonderful labour of love - I highly recommend this book and think that even if one comes to it without my own personal points of interest, it is highly readable and gripping. ( )
  jessibud2 | Feb 22, 2015 |
A young Hmong girl in California with severe epilepsy is caught between her family's Hmong culture and the culture of a modern medical facility with its doctors. I wasn't sure I would like it at first, but Fadiman (quickly becoming one of my favorite authors) presents the dilemma with such an even hand. She sees both sides of the issue, and doesn't come out and preach one over the other. Truly a thought-provoking book. ( )
  tloeffler | Aug 9, 2014 |
Fascinating examination of the Hmong - both a particular family's tale and an examination of their history from China to the US ( )
  BondLamberty | Jul 29, 2014 |
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is perhaps a perfect work of narrative journalism, a non-fiction book which is both compellingly told, meticulously researched, and deeply thought-provoking. Not a word feels wasted in any of its dense three-hundred pages, and by the time you reach the end, you'll close the book feeling newly educated in Hmong culture, the American health care system, refugee politics, and everything in between. More than that, though, The Spirit Catches You is just a damn good read. You don't need to think you'd be interested in any of the issues it touches on; it will make you interested. The driving narrative, the heartbreaking story of the life of one epileptic Hmong child, is (much like life itself) brimming with both pathos and joy. And Anne Fadiman is the ideal reporter of it all: erudite, impartial, receptive, and exceedingly gifted as a prose stylist. I can't say I've ever read a better non-fiction work, and I doubt that I ever will (though I hope to read others just as good). The Spirit Catches You is simply a must-read, and there's not much more to say about it than that. ( )
  williecostello | Mar 11, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 81 (next | show all)
If tragedy is a conflict of two goods, if it entails the unfolding of deep human tendencies in a cultural context that makes the outcome seem inevitable, if it moves us more than melodrama, then this fine book recounts a poignant tragedy.
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.
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
First words
If Lia Lee had been born in the highlands of Laos, where her parents and twelve of her brothers and sisters were born, her mother would have squatted on the floor of the house that her father had built from ax-hewn planks thatched with bamboo and grass. (Chapter 1 - Birth)
"Of course, Martin had undergone an equally unseemly metamorphosis himself, from savant to bumbler.  It was as if, by a process of reverse alchemy, each party in this doomed relationship had managed to convert each other's gold into dross."  pg. 223
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language
Book description
Genre: non-fiction

Summary: A child of a family of Hmong Immigrants to the US has epilepsy, and cultural misunderstanding contributes to overmedication, culture clash, and a tragic result for the young girl.

The group read this along with Linda Voigt's "Bodies," an excerpt from article on Medieval Model of the Humours

The group responded enthusiastically to the Fadiman book, especially its fair-minded and balanced presentation of both the Hmong and the American medical perspectives on the case of epilepsy patient Lia Ly.

While there was much sympathy for the devastation wrought by the language barrier when two such different cultures collide, there was a sense that things have improved, at least a little, in health care facilities over the past twenty years. "We have learned something" was said a couple of times, referring to the need for intercultural understanding.

The materials on the humours -- which were thought to control bodily health, personality, and one's position in the world -- was a revelation to some participants. I had included it to make the point that, until the 17th century, the Western European model of the body and its functions, the psyche, and the relation of the individual to the cosmos, would be as alien to modern Americans as the Hmong model is.

After the first session in which individual difference was emphasized, this session on cultural differences seemed a logical development in the seminar themes. Many participants commented in later sessions how much The Spirit Catches You meant to them -- how it helped them step back from a cross-cultural therapeutic encounter to assess whether they were really understanding what was going on or what the client was trying to say. (Kathy Ashley, Maine)
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374525641, Paperback)

Lia Lee was born in 1981 to a family of recent Hmong immigrants, and soon developed symptoms of epilepsy. By 1988 she was living at home but was brain dead after a tragic cycle of misunderstanding, overmedication, and culture clash: "What the doctors viewed as clinical efficiency the Hmong viewed as frosty arrogance." The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions, written with the deepest of human feeling. Sherwin Nuland said of the account, "There are no villains in Fadiman's tale, just as there are no heroes. People are presented as she saw them, in their humility and their frailty--and their nobility."

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:24:36 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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 were part of a large Hmong community in Merced. 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 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 and 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.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
30 avail.
167 wanted
1 pay

Popular covers


Average: (4.24)
1 2
2 22
2.5 1
3 83
3.5 27
4 249
4.5 51
5 302

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 96,173,675 books! | Top bar: Always visible