Thanksgiving Reading

Thanksgiving reading; like summer reading but shorter and less of an actual thing. Anyway, mostly I’m writing this to talk about the exceptionally cool book I read in the course of researching my paper. “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” details one of the earliest publicized struggles between Hmong immigrants and Western doctors. Its used often times as a teaching aid in medical anthropology classes and occasionally in medical classes as well as an example of the difficulties in inter-cultural communication, and the barriers that language and culture can construct. I don’t want to give to much away (especially since you’re all going to have to read quite a bit about it in my paper) but the story talks about a young girl who suffered from epilepsy and her parents, who spoke very, very limited English and the difficulties they had negotiating their own religious and spiritual practices and the expectations of Western doctors. The problem stemmed mostly from a lack of Hmong interpreters and from the way in which epilepsy is perceived in the Hmong culture. The title is the literal translation of the term for epilepsy. It is seen as showing a talent for entering the spirit world, which means that the person suffering from the seizures possesses the potential to become a shaman. ¬†Fadiman alternates chapters between detailing the greater picture behind the story and the case study itself, and does so quite masterfully (at least in my humble and poorly qualified opinion).



About mghartley

An anthropologist of religion (in the making) with a focused interest in East Asia (specifically the mudang of Korea) and an abiding love for folklore and mythology. Student of Korean (and sometimes French and Japanese) with an interest in linguistics and culture.

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