The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down

About the Book

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 Secret War in Laos. 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.


Why we recommend it: Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down focuses on the spiritual and cultural disconnect between the family of a Hmong child with epilepsy and the local California doctors struggling to treat her. A nuanced and lyrical account of the incredible and painful efforts of Hmong refugees who immigrated from Laos to America in the aftermath of the secret war.

About the Author

Anne Fadiman

Anne Fadiman

Anne Fadiman is the Francis Writer-in-Residence at Yale. Her most recent book is "The Wine Lover's Daughter," a memoir about her father that the Washington Post called "wonderfully engaging" and Christopher Buckley called "the best family memoir yet to come out of the Baby Boom generation.” Her first book, "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down," is an account of the unbridgeable gulf between a family of Hmong refugees and their American doctors. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, among other awards. Fadiman is also the author of two essay collections. The London Observer called "Ex Libris" "witty, enchanting, and supremely well-written." NPR said of "At Large and At Small," "Fadiman is utterly delightful, witty and curious, and she's such a stellar writer that if she wrote about pencil shavings, you'd read it aloud to all your friends."