Posted: September 2, 2009
The 2009 Common Reading, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, will be the subject of two events this month. A faculty panel will lead a discussion of the book Monday, September 14, at 4:15 pm in Gamble Auditorium, and on September 29 at 7:30 pm, author Anne Fadiman will discuss and read from her book in Hooker Auditorium.
The Spirit Catches You is the story of Lia Lee, who was born in 1981 to a family of recent Hmong immigrants. When she developed epilepsy, the child became the victim of a tragic cycle of cultural miscommunication between her family and her California 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: 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.
Published in 1998, the book earned wide praise and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the L.A. Times Book Prize, and the Boston Book Review nonfiction award.
"Ms. Fadiman tells her story with a novelist's grace, playing the role of cultural broker, comprehending those who do not comprehend each other and perceiving what might have been done or said to make the outcome different," wrote Richard Berstein of the New York Times.
Fadiman is a recipient of a National Magazine Award for reporting and a John S. Knight Fellowship in Journalism. She has written for Civilization, Harper's, Life, and the New York Times, among other publications. Interestingly, a September 19 piece in the New York Times, "A Doctor for Disease, A Shaman for the Soul," discusses the influence of Fadiman's groundbreaking book.
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