The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

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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.


About Anne Fadiman

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Anne Fadiman was born in New York City and was raised in Connecticut and Los Angeles. After graduating from Harvard, she worked as a wilderness instructor in Wyoming before returning to New York to write. She has been a staff writer at Life, editor-at-large of Civilization, and editor of The American Scholar. Fadiman is also the author of Ex Libris and At Large and At Small, and the editor of Rereadings. She now lives with her family in western Massachusetts and serves as the Francis Writerin-Residence at Yale.
Published September 30, 1998 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 364 pages
Genres: Education & Reference, History, Political & Social Sciences, Parenting & Relationships, Professional & Technical, Literature & Fiction, Health, Fitness & Dieting. Non-fiction

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At age three months Lia had had her first epileptic seizure--as the Lees put it, ``the spirit catches you and you fall down.'' Lia's treatment was complex--her anticonvulsant prescriptions changed 23 times in four years--and the Lees were sure the medicines were bad for their daughter.

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Publishers Weekly

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When two divergent cultures collide, unbridgeable gaps of language, religion, social customs may remain between them. This poignant account by Fadiman, editor of the American Scholar, of the clash bet

Sep 01 1997 | Read Full Review of The Spirit Catches You and Yo...

Publishers Weekly

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At three months of age, Lia was diagnosed with what American doctors called epilepsy, and what her family called quag dab peg or, ""the spirit catches you and you fall down."" Fadiman traces the treatments for Lia's illness, observing the sharp differences between Eastern and Western healing meth...

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Spirituality & Practice

Reviews Philosophy About Our Affiliates Books & Audios Recently Reviewed In this paperback, award-winning journalist Anna Fadiman presents the cultural clash between Western medicine and Hmong spiritual healing in the case of a child suffering fr...

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