Book review: The Spirit Catches you and you fall down

The Spirit Catches you and you fall down by Anne Fadiman

Published:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, USA, 1998

“If you can’t see that your own culture has its own set of interests, emotions, and biases, how can you expect to deal successfully with someone else’s culture?”

(Kleinman in Fadiman, 1997, p261)

This book tells the true story of Lia Lee, a Hmong child and her fight with epilepsy or what her culture calls “The spirit catches you and you fall down”.  The book explores the ongoing cultural misunderstandings between the Merced County Hospital in Los Angeles and a young Hmong family, refugees from the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and the significant implications for all involved.

Tamerlaine – BI Managing Director’s review

I found this book examined so many of the themes we see emerging in our work regarding the complexities of intercultural interactions.  It also provided some valuable strategies for greater effectiveness.  The way in which the author, Anne Fadiman, explored multiple perspectives of the situation and attempted to avoid making over simplistic categorisations of ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ behaviour was unusual and showed her depth of intercultural understanding.  Fadiman’s exploration of the power and importance of humility, of good intentions and a willingness to learn and to use mutually respected cultural mediators when working in culturally complex environments is valuable.  Although the book is in the realm of medical anthropology, the fascinating story it tells, and the cross-cultural insights it provides are of relevance to anyone working across cultures.

Emily – BI Administrator’s review

This book has contributed to the start of a very important learning curve for me in regard to cross-cultural awareness and understanding.  I must admit that my interpretation of this book comes from a medical anthropology perspective, although the most important aspects of the book are grounded in the realm of cross-cultural understanding.  Fadiman talks about the important role a cultural assistant or cultural broker can play when dealing with cross-cultural situations. This book highlights that barriers in miscommunication go beyond language and are centred on the idea that different people from different cultures have different views and understandings of the world, of how the world exists and how they exist in the world.

About Tamerlaine Beasley
Beasley Intercultural is a consulting and training company focused on enabling success in globally connected and culturally diverse workplaces.

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