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Book review of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

The Spirit catches you and you fall down

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The Spirit catches you and you fall down

The book was written in the year 1997 by Anne Fadiman, and it describes the struggles faced by an immigrant family from Sainyabuli province in Asia during their encounter with the Medical centre in California (Hilmer, 2010). The author narrates about a young girl named Liab Lis; the second born in an immigrant family, her epilepsy illness and the cultural clashes that interfere with her treatment process. Fadiman also describes the miscommunications of medical treatment requirements and parents’ denial on approving particular medication because of various conflicting issues including distrust. In addition, the doctors lack sympathy towards the cultural lifestyle of the immigrants as the state of Liab’s illness gets worse (Hilmer, 2010).

The story illustrates different elements including cultural relativism, various ideals on well-being and different immigration experiences. Cultural relativism is usually explained as the belief that one’s attitudes and actions should be comprehended based on his or her ethnicity. Fadiman demonstrates cultural relativism where he sums up the lifestyle of the Hmong culture in America while it is being caught up by the Western health epistemology. For example, Fadiman illustrates cultural relativism in the scenario of Lia’s parents and the American doctors.

Despite both doctors and Lia’s parents wanting the best for her recovery, their ideals appear to differ because of the differences in cultural beliefs. For example, as the Hmong cultural community views the concept of the illness and treatment as divine matters connected to the universe, the western medical culture provides a great distinction between divinity and the body and results the illness to matters of the physical body.

The doctors viewed the cause of her severe symptoms including seizure attacks as being caused by the failure of a certain part of the body known as the cerebral neurons. However, Lia’s parents view the illness as “qaug dab peg” to mean that as the spirit catches you, you fall down (Rita & Hoffman, 2010). In addition, the parents attribute the girl’s illness to the drifting of her soul. Cultural relativism is also witnessed where Lia’s parents and doctors conflict over her treatment due to each of their different cultural beliefs. For example, as the doctors refer medicinal treatment known as anticonvulsants, Lia’s parents prefer that they perform a ritual that would involve sacrificing their animals in order to sympathize with the wandering spirits (Rita & Hoffman, 2010).

As Lia’s doctors give her a prescription of the required medication for reducing her seizure attacks, her parents refuse to follow the rules instructed by the doctors. This is because they believed that their daughter was suffering from epilepsy because she had misplaced her soul. In addition, they perceived the process of administering the medicine as challenging and feared the negative side effects that the medicine would give to Lia (Colby, 2003).

As a result, Lia’s parents decided to follow their cultural beliefs and instead opted to take her to their cultural elder and advisor known as Shaman in order to find Lia’s soul and hence fasten the recovery process (Colby, 2003). On the contrary, Lia’s doctors viewed this act as a way of endangering the patient’s life and therefore, they decided to take legal action by involving the child service legal department in order to place Lia in foster care. The doctors believe that Lia’s life would be protected if she were not under her parent’s watch. The conflict between the two different cultures intended to save Lia’s life. However, the results became disastrous because the unity of Liam’s family became broken while the refugees lost hope and trust in the medical doctors (Humphries & Cohen, 2004).

Fadiman has also used the story to illustrate the migration experiences of the Hmong refugee community in America. For example, he describes the experiences of the Hmong community during their migration to the United States in the early eighties with the aim of rescuing their cultural identity. If the immigrants had been secure in their own country, they would have probably stayed there. However, the author explains that uncontrolled migrants were persistent in staying in their homeland despite the challenges that were thrown at them. He further described how the Hmong refugee community wanted their independence to be respected (Bruhn, 2005).

Despite the efforts of the American government to resettle the Hmong immigrant families in their country, these families suffered the challenge of disconnecting with their traditional customs (Bruhn, 2005). In addition, other Hmong immigrant communities experienced feelings of anxiety, stress and mistrust while others became restless and overwhelmed. Although the migration experience may enable the Hmong community to acquire certain benefits, they viewed the assimilation process as being an insult and a danger at the same time.

This is because the Hmong immigrant community found themselves in an environment that possessed a culture that was very different from what they were accustomed to. The immigrants had no relation whatsoever to the cultural situation found in the new Western environment (Bruhn, 2005).  The author also tries to display the challenges faced by the Hmong immigrant community while living in the United States because they were unable to fit in the society in which they were unfamiliar in the cultural sense (Humphries & Cohen, 2004).

Fadiman also tries to illustrate the conflict that exists between different cultures based on the health and medicinal aspect. In the story, the characters express various perspectives on the area of medicine and health that results to conflicts that involve several misunderstandings on the causes and treatment of a particular illness (Humphries & Cohen, 2004). The misunderstanding results to the wide difference gap of cultural views, which gives no room for compromise or a common agreement that, would settle the cultural differences.

 

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