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Book of the Quarter

Spirit Catches You & You Fall Down, Spring 2004

Spring 2004

Boland Reading Room
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
noon - 1 p.m.

The Multicultural Center (MCC) and Unity RLC have chosen a compelling and provocative book as spring's book of the quarter: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down : a Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, by Anne Fadiman.

The spring event will be held during National Library Week on Wednesday, April 21, from noon - 1 p.m., in the Orradre Library Boland Reading Room. Please remember, you do not have to read the Book of the Quarter to attend to discussion.

Although the details of this book are specific to the Hmong people of Laos and this one family's experience with the American medical system, the compelling issue of health care being as much about cultural awareness and sensitivity as it is about prescribing the right medicine is one that we can all relate to.

You can read excerpts from inside this book at the official site and at, or hear the author reading an excerpt (requires free RealPlayer software).


"For the Hmong people of Laos, "the spirit catches you and you fall down" describes what Westerners call epilepsy. Anne Fadiman, in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures (Noonday) creatively and comprehensively unfolds the story of a Hmong family's nightmare. They are attempting to care for their daughter who lives with this special condition, while well-meaning physicians and other health care professionals struggle valiantly to provide the best care possible for this little girl. Multiple examples of insurmountable obstacles to communication lace the book and leave the reader to wonder if tragedy could have been avoided." (Source: National Catholic Reporter, June 15, 2001 v37 i32 p17)
"On the surface, the book appears to be a medical case study of Lia's epileptic seizures and the tragic consequences of cross-cultural misunderstanding and miscommunication between Lia's doctors and her parents. However, Fadiman skillfully uses the style of a Hmong oral narrative, which often begins by saying "to speak of all kinds of things" (p. 13), to show the reader how the tiniest details of Lia's personal story are connected to the larger narrative of Hmong history, culture, and traditional beliefs and customs, including Hmong medicinal practices. Drawing on a broad body of literature including historical records, anthropological accounts, personal experience narratives, folktales, and folklore, Fadiman pieces together an intricate tapestry of the Hmong, their traditional lifestyle in Laos, their involvement in the Vietnam war as United States allies, their flight as refugees from Laos, and their eventual resettlement and immigrant experiences in the United States." (Source: Journal of American Ethnic History, Summer 1999 v18 i4 p193(2))
Sep 17, 2015