Review: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

How many people are there on Earth? Since an exact number is hard to pin down — as per recent estimates, it is more than 7 billion. A billion is one followed by nine zeros. Huge number? Indeed. Let it sink in.

Now, look into yourself. Find the earliest memories you have. Take two minutes and create a mental picture of your experiences. From those earliest memories to the present day. Are you done? If no, then I will wait. Otherwise, I will continue.

The above paragraph was to remind you that you’re an individual. You were shaped by your experiences. And, those experiences were highly shaped by — the parents you were born to, the community you belonged to and the society you found yourself in.

The very first paragraph was to make you realize the sheer number of human experiences — the versions of truth, of judgement, of love and of acceptance. What will happen when two very different versions of realities meet face-to-face?

This question forms the core theme of Anne Fadiman’s book. In it, we find Lia Lee, a young Hmong girl. Unfortunately, from the early stages of her life, she started suffering from bouts of seizures. Epilepsy. Her disease brings American doctors into the picture. With it, starts the clash between two cultures and world-views.

In a way, the author has laid stress on the Hmong side of the story. It was quite illuminating and provided a great perspective. But, I felt that she became more defensive(than required) in covering up for blunders made by Lia’s parents. In turn, she also criticized the way medical practice is done(a person is more or less her illness; emotions shouldn’t come in the way of rationality). Personally, I feel that (good) doctors should have the last word in a patient’s treatment.

Finally, this book is not a thrill read. You shouldn’t expect getting hooked up. Instead, in case you plan to read it, have patience and learn as much as you can.

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