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Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman, 1997, * * * *

In Merced, CA, which has a large Hmong community, Lia Lee was born in 1981, the 13th child in a family coping with their plunge into a modern and mechanized way of life. The child suffered an initial seizure at the age of three months which her family attributed to the slamming of the front door by an older sister. They felt the fright had caused the baby's soul to flee her body and become lost to a malignant spirit. The report of the family's attempts to cure Lia through shamanistic intervention and the home sacrifices of pigs and chickens is balanced by the intervention of the medical community that insisted upon the removal of the child from deeply loving parents with disastrous results. This compassionate and understanding account fairly represents the positions of all the parties involved. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions, written with the deepest of human feeling. According to Dr. Sherwin Nuland, author and professor of bioethics and medicine at Yale, “there are no villains in Fadiman’s tale, just as there are no heroes. People are presented in all their humility, frailty and nobility”. An intriguing, spirit-lifting, extraordinary exploration of two cultures in uneasy coexistence. Fadiman's book is a superb, informal cultural anthropolog, eye-opening, readable, and utterly engaging.

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