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When I asked Jon Reider, our Director of College Counseling, for a summer reading list recommendation without hesitation he offered up Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. I could recount our conversation and how Jon convinced me that I should read this book this summer, but I will let him speak for himself:
This is stunning work of contemporary ethnography with a novelist’s eye for detail and feeling. As a reader, you feel you are participating in the struggle of an immigrant Hmong family from Laos in Merced, California as they adjust to American society after their forcible displacement from Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War. Equally, you can’t help sympathizing with the talented and caring doctors from UC Davis and the professional social workers who try to help the family’s young daughter who is diagnosed with severe epilepsy. The author, Anne Fadiman, a writing instructor at Yale, and noted essayist and critic, takes no sides as she presents the dilemma of cultural misunderstanding mixed with purely honorable intentions on both sides. The book is now required reading in many medical schools in courses on Community Medicine. Even if you think you have no interest in medicine as a career, you will find this book a fascinating case study of intercultural relations, as well as a subtle commentary on the unintended consequences of the American imperial project of the 20th century.
I belong to a book group of nine sometimes cantankerous gentlemen of my age. We delight in tearing books down; it seems that someone always finds fault with that month’s choice. This was the first book that everyone was in awe of. Highly recommended.
You can read an excerpt from the publisher on their website.