The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Thoughts   The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, Farrar Strause and Giroux 1997, 341+ pages*

MOTIVATION:    I have been wanting to read this for a long time because 1)  I enjoy NonFiction, 2)  Kim says it is terrific, and 3) Anne Fadiman is an author I’ve heard good things.   The WHY of the “why-now?” is because it was my choice to pick for book club and I wanted to choose something I didn’t think any one else would likely know to choose on their own.

p 257  “How can [doctors] know the future but not know how to change it?   I don’t understand it.”

REACTION:   I gave this 4 stars because as much as I enjoyed and was impressed with the author’s research, plus balanced and fair and heart-breaking telling, I was not in the mood to read what with the rush to get ready for the holidays and pressure to complete reading challenges.    And yet, that I gave it 4 stars shows it’s power and excellence that it could compel me to devote time and finish!

WHAT it’s ABOUT:    A young Hmong girl living in California has epilepsy and her parents who do not speak English; they take her to the local hospital when a seizure gets too scary.     Fadiman presents the culture of the Hmong against the challenges faced by the hospital staff and never assigns blame.      A fascinating anthropological study of one immigrant family’s beliefs, one slice of the American health care system and how it all clashes for this one little girl.      Complications and complexities!!!  and yet the book is readable, educational and sympathetic.     There’s a lot of love in this book, too.

p 106 “Looking over Lia’s sparse medical records form the spring and summer of 1986, around the time of her fourth birthday, [foster care notes] summed up the first few months… in 3 words:  “Nothing interesting here.”  The Lees would disagree.   …now the tables were turned, and a period that seemed uneventful from the doctors’ perspective was revealed, from the Lee’s perspective to be one of the richest in her life.

Please do read Kim’s review at her impressive blog Sophisticated Dorkiness and read why she gives this book her Perfect A+ Score.

updated: FizzyThought’s review is good, too.

updated again:   Jeanne of Necromancy Never Pays had some strong reactions to this book and reviewed it the same day I did!  and we both blame Kim for wanting to read it!  and we both thought it an excellent book… AND, the comments are great, too.

BOOK CLUB’s REACTION:    A few people didn’t get it completed but were enjoying it.   One member was impressed and glad that she had read it thinking that she never would have if it hadn’t been a club pick.   Another chose not to read the book at all  because “it hit too close to home” and she explained and we understood.    Someone mentioned that the reviews on Amazon included people mentioned in the book and that many found the book very fair in its telling which is amazing for such a sad tale where so much went wrong.   It was remarked that we have read two books this year that touch on the immigrant experience (the other was Zeitoun by Dave Eggers.)

p 183 …the Hmong are what sociologists call ‘involuntary migrants.’   It is well known that involuntary migrants, no matter what pot they are thrown into, tend not to melt.

We will be reading Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich for January.

p117 nosocomial = hospital-acquired
p119 montagnards = former term for Hmong from French ‘from the mountains’


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26 thoughts on “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

    1. Well, thanks Gavin! I am really just trying to get these reviews out of my head and onto this blog so I can enjoy this year! 🙂 Happy 2011 to you!

  1. This is one of my favorite nonfiction books… ever. My book club considers it a group favorite, too. Too bad you had to read it during such a hectic month. Who knows, it may have rated 5 stars during a quieter time (if there is such a thing!)

    1. Oh, I do think you are right about that! Will probably end up being a book that increases it’s Care-Value as time goes on. oh goodness, will you listen to me? Pie-Value? You know what I mean…

  2. I am not a nonfiction reader, but this book seems so interesting. I am not sure that I have really heard anything negative about it. Perhaps it should be added to the TBR. Thanks for the enlightenment!

    1. I was actually afraid that it would be more technical (ie, boring) especially the medical side of it all and it wasn’t. In case you are maybe thinking the same. It jumps back and forth between the specific case and the Hmong history that it really balances to a beautiful narrative.

  3. I’m hearing such wonderful things about this one. I’m not a huge non-fiction reader but I’m hoping to remedy that this year because there really are so many amazing stories that are not fiction.

    1. and do go read Jeanne’s review if you missed it. I’m sure Kim and I can introduce you to some incredible nonfic that is very very easy and fascinating and story-like…

  4. I love it that you love nonfiction. I do, too. Somewhere, I have a copy of this book. I have got to read it. Love the way you added the vocabulary at the bottom. I’ve just started keeping a vocabulary and quotation notebook, this year — I used to keep vocab notebooks all the time. I love embracing my inner nerd, don’t you?

    1. AND get that fdil to read it (fdil = future dot in law but you you figgered that out, right?) I am sure that I found more words than these two but somehow these ended up on a slip of paper and not just on a page with a turned down corner…

  5. Heh, we ended up reviewing this on the same day…synchronicity! I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but I sped through this one. Partly I read it fast because it made me so angry about medical care in this country.

    1. Yea, I glossed over this aspect, didn’t I? As I am about to embark on a search for ANOTHER new-to-me (I just found this one a year ago!) primary care doc cuz we had to switch health insurance. Grrrrrrrrrr.
      I’ve linked to your review.

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