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Posted on August 19th, 2012, by

The book by Anne Fadiman “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down”¯ belongs to the chronicles about the Hmong and their struggling with health care system in California. On the surface this is a story of a girl Lia Lee, who suffers from complicated form of epilepsy and needs medical help and treatment. If it is considered more profound, the book presents the situation of collision between different customs and cultures; also touches the problems of Laos war and problems related to immigration and assimilation to a foreign culture ”“ “European immigrants came to the United States because they hoped to assimilate into mainstream American Society. The Hmong came to the United States for the same reason they had left China in the nineteenth century: because they were trying to resist assimilation”¯ (Fadiman, 1998).

The author discusses the issues of scientific progress and humanity in frames of different cultures, people of which due to various life conditions and moral principles cannot reach mutual understanding and have to pay too high price for this.

The family of the Hmong arrived as immigrants from the Secret War in Laos and as their daughter suffered from seizure episodes, they couldn’t event tell about her sickness to the doctor, because they didn’t speak English so well. American doctors diagnosed epilepsy only after several seizures and later the brain of the small girl dead after severe seizure of epilepsy.

The author, having studied in details cultural and religious beliefs of the Hmong ”“ “the history of the Hmong yields several lessons that anyone who deals with them might do well to remember. Among the most obvious of these are that the Hmong do no like to take orders; that they do not like to lose; that they would rather flee, fight, or die than surrender; that they are not intimidated by being outnumbered; that they are rarely persuaded that the customs of other culture, even those more powerful than their own, are superior, and that they are capable of getting very angry”¯ (Fadiman, 1998), was able to show the events from both perspectives ”“ that of parents, who didn’t trust the drugs, prescribed by the doctors and that of doctors, who tried to do their best in order to help the girl, but had to struggle with parents and their superstitions. The result was tragic for both sides and each of them blamed the other for such an outcome. Through presenting the attitudes to medicine two absolutely different societies are opposed to each other. In America the doctors are used to treat epilepsy as an illness, which needs medical support, whereas the Hmong had their own vision of epilepsy, or as they called it – qaug dab peg (“the spirit catches you and you fall down”¯) ”“ “Hmong consider qaug dab peg [epilepsy] to be an illness of some distinction,”¯ and that “Hmong epileptics often become shamans”¯ (Fadiman, 1998). American doctors prescribed drugs, and the parents of the girl were sure, that help would come from herb remedies and animals’ sacrifices. The roots of epilepsy doctors were used to find in biological processes, but the Hmong were sure that epilepsy is a spiritual problem and this fact frightened them more, than the disease itself.

Overall, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, is a brilliant and profound investigation of the cross-cultural relation, based on the example of approach to medicine. The fascinating and perturbing story can be interesting for the readers, who have to work with the Hmong or study their culture and traditions, because it is so rich for their folk stories, beliefs, and religious and medicinal practices. The book makes the readers begin to think about things, which seemed to be common or were not noticed at all.

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