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 the Author:

Tamerlaine Beasley is an expert who enables effective collaboration and communication in diverse and global workplaces.She is a member of the Board of the Australia-ASEAN Council for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and founder and Managing Director of Beasley Intercultural, Australia’s premier cross-cultural training and consultancy company.Tamerlaine’s keynote presentations, advisory services and training programs are described by clients as ‘transformational’ and ‘game changing’. Examples of her work include: coaching and advising business leaders in Australia and Asia; working with global teams to optimise performance; developing a framework for training and capability building through international partnerships for APEC; building local staff capacity at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific; leading the development of diversity and inclusion programs for the Australian Public Service Commission and the Department of Defence.