This May, Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down will be re-released as an FSG Classic book, with the author coming to the Twin Cities for two events at St. Paul’s Highland Park Library on May 7, and Minneapolis Central Library on May 8.
Fadiman’s book highlighted the need for culturally competent health care and social services with its breakthrough true story about the collision of Western medicine and Hmong culture. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down was an instant sensation that remains required reading across the country.
The moving chronicle of a very sick girl, her refugee parents, and the doctors who struggled desperately to treat her becomes, in Fadiman’s deft narrative, at once a cautionary study of the limits of Western medicine and a parable for the modern immigrant experience.
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 and 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.
In this new, FSG Classic edition, Anne Fadiman revisits her perennial bestseller – now required reading in classrooms across American – bringing the major storylines up to date and revealing how her involvement with the story of the Hmong profoundly changed her own life.
Fadiman weaves this personal tragedy, a probing medical investigation, and a fascinating look at Hmong history and culture into a stunningly insightful, richly rewarding piece of modern reportage. Plus, the FSG Classic edition includes a new afterword by the author that brings the story up to date and breathes new life into the beloved classic that is perennially one of FSG’s bestselling backlist titles.
Before arriving in Minnesota, Fadiman will be at Healthy House in Merced, California for a reunion with the actual family and doctors featured in the book in front of a live audience.
Anne Fadiman is the author of two essay collections, At Large and At Small and Ex Libris, and the editor of Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love. Her essays and articles have appeared in Harper’s, The New Yorker, and The New York Times, among other publications. She is the Francis Writer-in-Residence at Yale.
Meredith Kessler, Associate Publicist
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures