Lia lee is the main character in the book 'the spirit catches you and you fall down' by Anne Fadiman. The story of the book revolves around her. When Lia's mother gives birth to her, the doctors later discover that Lia has epilepsy. The author builds the whole story from the two forces of the parents and her American doctors. The parents believe in their cultural and religious ways of their community and the power of healing coming from these forces. While the doctors explain, that cerebral neurons in her brain cause the disease. This brings about conflict in the small native community of the Hmong. This essay will focus thoroughly analyze Lia's family and the factors that are surrounding the family due to the issue of her illness.


Anne Fadiman, born in august 1953, in New York.  Her father was a re known for being a television and radio personality. Her mother was an author.  Fadiman attended Harvard University, where she graduated in 1975.  She is currently a teacher and an editor. Her book 'the spirit catches you and you fall down ' won an award in 1997. She has also written other two books of essays. Anne Fadiman is currently working under a program called Francis program at the Yale University.

The family of Lia belonged to a traditional native community called the Hmong. Most of the people who belonged to this community were refugees from a war that the CIA   had started in Laos. The Hmong are a group of natives who are close. They also strongly believe in traditional rituals and beliefs (Fadiman, 1998). The Hmong though are popular for their strong belief in the sacredness of a human's soul. These make them unique and they also reject the modern medicine that is present in America.

The silent war' misplaces Lia's family and the war forces them to move to another area. The lack of food also contributes to them to relocating. The father of Lia led his family through a war-filled zone until they were all safe in California. Here, they settled, and, it was the time when Lia's mother gives birth to her. Unlike her other siblings, Lia's mother gave birth to her in a hospital and not at home for her mother did not have to go to a hospital. This was the reason why the doctors knew of her and wanted to help, as this would have been in an American family. On the contrary, Lia's family was different, and it had their own beliefs and practices.

Among the Hmong, the people consider epilepsy as sacred.  Furthermore, it is also an extremely feared and dangerous disease in the Hmong community. They say that when a seizure attacks, it is at this time of the seizures that they can communicate with the soul. It, therefore, means that when one is epileptic in this community the members consider such people as lucky and even as sacred. This is the main reason why Lia's family considered her as a gift and why they treasured her. Additionally, the community considers many shamans of the Hmong community epileptic. The Hmong believe that the spirits would not have chosen an impure person to live in, therefore, making those that have epilepsy purely and religious.

If one were epileptic in the Hmong community, the members saw this as a way of helping others. According to their customs, the Hmong believe that those that are epileptic are able to convert into the spirit. In addition, they are able to communicate with other spirits on behalf of the other community members. It is with this communication that these citizens are able to be healed both spiritually and emotionally. It was, therefore, extremely valuable for Lia to remain epileptic because of the duties that she had to her fellow community members (Fadiman, 1998).

Lia's condition was if interest to her American doctors also to her family.  A reader sees these two forces in the book differing in matters of what caused the epilepsy and how it can be cured. According to her parents, the gods give epilepsy to chosen people   as a blessing, and that only the gods can take it from her. On the other hand, the doctors know the cause of this condition and have tried everything to save Lia.

 Language barriers mainly affected the doctors' efforts to save Lia. These barriers existed between the parents and the doctors (Fadiman, 1998). Although there were efforts to try translating, some essence got lost in the translation of what the doctor wanted. This book enlightens the medical practitioners of today of the importance of understanding a patient's culture and helping them understand the importance of modern medicine. If this had happened, maybe the doctors would save Lia.

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Lia's condition deteriorates and she succumbs to brain death. One sees the American doctors trying each means to reach and save the child. The doctors face obstacles such as a language barrier and hostility forms the parents as well as the community. Although the doctors leave instructions of Lia's treatment to the parents, they are not able to understand each other well because of the differences in language. In addition, Lia's parents believe that only the spirits can free their child from the looming disease.

Lia's parents have strongly been affected and arrested by the Hmong community believes. They are adamant on refusing the American doctors to treat their daughter. The book shows how the parents try all means of the Hmong community to seek deliverance of their daughter from the epileptic disease. They even offer sacrifices and invite the Hmong shaman to come and intervene on their behalf to the spirits.

Lia's condition would have become better had the two forces involvement diminished or not existed. This conflict between the parents and the American doctors made Lia suffer severally. As the doctors had predicted her condition would have improved with medication, but the parents were not ready to follow the instructions to the letter. They also did not quite fully understand the doctor. As a result, of this conflict Lia experiences seizures and eventually goes into brain death   when hit by a major attack. It is evident that Lia must have undergone through so much pain from when she was a child (Fadiman, 1998).

We can largely attribute the behavior of Lia's parents to the culture of the Hmong. The author goes into extensive details of explain the ways of the Hmong. She says that people from this culture are full of pride. They do not like to be told and to take order from others (Fadiman, 1998). They are also so resistant to accepting the culture of others even if such cultures may be seen to be superior to their culture.

It is this stubbornness that Lia's parents had. They totally refused to accept the doctor's diagnosis and means of curing of Lia's condition. To them their causes of epileptic being spiritual were the right sources and the only way that Lia could be helped was also through the spirit. It is also evident in the end that they are not yet ready to give up Lia. As they struggle, to reunite her with her spirit even if the doctors have pronounced her brain to be dead.

The Hmong is also remarkably caring and loving group of people. This is so especially for the mothers. They   care for their children and lavish them with love. This worked positively for Lia, as she was a favorite of her parents. They treated her so well and dressed her with the most beautiful of clothes. They gave her love even when she was suffering from such a dangerous disease as per their community. This worked positively on her behalf.

This story has lessons that are essential especially for the medical practitioners. It is crucial for these health officials to want to understand the different cultures of their patients. With an understanding of their culture, they can then be able to come up with proper ways by which they can approach the patient. The American doctors did not know about the culture of the Hmong and their beliefs. The problem of the language barrier was also present; all this may have resulted into the deteriorating of Lia's condition, which the doctors would save.


Lia's birth was at a time when two cultures were at a conflict. Probably if, Lia's birth was in Laos, when the Hmong had migrated from, she would lead a better life, knowing of her abilities and blessings. This was not the case, and Lia found herself amidst two cultures that were different. The American doctors wanted to help Lia, and so did her family but these two forces experienced a lot of hostility and dislike between them. This made Lia suffer immensely. The author has clearly shown the Hmong beliefs and customs in the book. She has also depicted how this people from the Hmong are proud of their beliefs and practices. They would not let any other culture infiltrate their own. This might have been the biggest cause for Lia eventually ending up with a dead brain.

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