This story is a biography/non-fiction about a child, Lia Lee born in American to Hmong refugees. She is beautiful and very well loved, but as a baby, she begins having seizures. Fadiman handles the complexity of the story well. She explains the cultural divide, and it is huge: language, religion, family and clan dynamics, and the role of children. Hmong adore their children, and children with epilepsy are thought of as chosen ones as they believe these children can commune with spirits.
I loved learning about the Hmong culture and found their belief in Dabs and spirits interesting. I found some of their beliefs quite healthy and feel we could do better by incorporating them into our own lives.
As a mother with a child who endured the entire neurology workup, I can't imagine doing so without being able to understand the doctor and without an interpreter. Initially when your child receives this diagnosis, the medicine routine is very difficult. You introduce the medicine and then gradually increase it over the course of several weeks, all the time on the look out for side-effects and trying to see if the medicine is at a therapeutic level in order to stop the seizures. It was confusing, and I am college educated and speak the same language as the doctor.
I like that Fadiman didn't try to paint anyone as guilty or innocent in the fiasco that was Lia Lee's case. She presented the facts. She presented the culture differences and misunderstandings. She worked hard to present a balanced non-biased story.
As an educator, I wish I had read this book a long time ago, as it explained some of the cultural differences that would have been nice to know with a few of my own students. This is a book that anyone who works with the public should read. If you are someone who loves to learn about other cultures, this is a book you will enjoy.
Read to a child today even if that child is you.
Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies in the newborn intensive care unit.