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The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

LAOS | Friday, 18 January 2008 | Views [5536] | Comments [1]

Hmong woman and her children, near Muang Ngoi

Hmong woman and her children, near Muang Ngoi

I came across this book in Luang Prabang, and enjoyed it so much that I want to recommend it to everyone. It’s an extremely well-written, meticulously researched, and scrupulously even-handed account of an immigrant Hmong family and their encounter with American doctors after their child is diagnosed with epilepsy. It is the absolutely heart-breaking story of many, many misunderstandings and miscommunications. The Hmong believe that illness is attributed to a problem with the soul, believing that it has been taken away by an evil spirit, a dab. In the case of epilepsy, they believed that the little girl’s spirit had been taken far away. Of course, the American doctors view epilepsy in different terms and prescribe different treatments.

What makes this book so compelling and such an extraordinary read is that the author, Anne Fadiman, does an outstanding job at giving voice to all sides and all belief systems involved in this ultimately tragic story. It also gave me a much fuller understanding of the impacts of the Hmong involvement on behalf of the US in the “Other Theater” of the Vietnam War, and how difficult their immigrant experience is/was in the US. This is quite a rushed book review, since I have to run to the airport soon (and still more posts remain unwritten, yet again!). I highly recommend this book!

Tags: books



I am so glad you read this book Justine. This book was what made me decide to get my medical anthropology degree! It cemented my decision to apply and return to graduate school. I felt that there was so much for me to do after I had the proper training! It was so inspiring and I felt that if I could make one little contribution to the field, it would perhaps help one child or one family to avoid such a crisis. Funny thing is Ann Fadiman is trained as a sociologist who did fieldwork! She make an excellent medical anthropologist!

  Vickie Feb 14, 2008 4:29 AM

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