The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

  • by Anne Fadiman
  • Narrated by Pamela Xiong
  • 13 hrs and 38 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction
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 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.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Good audiobook but narrator struggles with basic pronunciation

This is a great narrative of medical anthropology. So my comments for people considering it aren't about the content of the book, but about the production quality of the audiobook. The narrator mispronounces truly basic English words so often that I was both amazed and distracted. Any right minded producer should have corrected these mistakes. I applaud this reader for her Hmong pronunciations, but the tone and pace of the rest of the text is pretty weird. I still recommend it, but you should know that going in.
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- Kate

Did anyone proof-listen this?

I have to echo the complaints of other listeners: the mispronunciations in this audiobook and little girl-ish voice of the narrator makes this listenable only by someone intent on appreciating Anne Fadiman's writing and perspective. As a story of culture clash, the book works very well--Fadiman is constantly open to the possibility of there being two different, conflicting, and yet equally valid interpretation of any situation, and she is a champion of sympathy and understanding no matter how challenging the individual or culture.

Pamela Xiong, on the other hand, not only struggles with the occasional unfamiliar word but outright butchers common ones: VAGGrunt (vagrant); indicked (indict); Wash-and-Dreeze (Wash 'n' Dris). Her attempts at dramatic emphasis come off silly and strident. Her male voices of authority are a parody of a woman attempting to imitate a man. The whole performance is just cringeworthy. It's amazing that no one has the sense to stop the production after 30 minutes of recording and hire another reader. Such a shame to see a fine book treated so poorly.
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- BB

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-18-2015
  • Publisher: Audible Studios