Discussion Questions for Summer Reading Program 2007
"The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" by Anne Fadiman
1. Are there events in the book that remind you of your own experiences or the experiences of people that you know? Have you experienced a cultural barrier in your life?
2. What is your initial impression of Lia’s family? Of Lia’s doctors? Do these opinions change throughout the book?
3. The Hippocratic oath is taken by physicians and relates to the ethical practice of medicine. Part of this oath states that physicians have an obligation to not inflict intentional harm and to keep the good of the patient in mind when following a course of action. In carrying out this oath, should doctors take into account the cultural practices of their patients in treating the patient?
4. Who should determine what is the best course of action in treating medical issues related to children – their doctors or their parents? Should the government have the right to take children away from parents who do not adhere to prescribed medical treatments?
5. At the end of the book, the author writes, “What was not clear was who, if anyone, should be held accountable” (p.258). In your opinion, who should be held accountable for what happened to Lia throughout the story?
6. What role should traditional healing play in the treatment of illnesses and medical conditions?
7. The United States is considered to be a nation of immigrants. What responsibility does the United States have today to accept, welcome, and provide for new immigrants? What place should there be in United States culture for those immigrants who are not willing to give up their own culture and wish to isolate themselves?
8. Should immigrants to the US be required to learn English? Do you think this story would have been different had there not been a language barrier between Lia’s family and the medical staff?
9. The book is organized in such a way as to tell the story of Lia along with the history of the Hmong people. Why are both stories important in understanding the events that happen in the book?
10. On page 201 of the text, Fadiman describes the 5 betrayals the Hmong people faced at the hands of the US government. Do you think the Hmong are justified in feeling betrayed by the US government?
11. (From Readers’ Guide) What are the most important aspects of Hmong culture? What do the Hmong consider their most important duties and obligations? How did they affect the Hmong’s transition to the United States?
12. (From Readers’ Guide) What does Dan Murphy mean by, “When you fail one Hmong, you fail the whole community” (p.235)?
13. Throughout the text the idea of home comes into play. Why is home so important to the Hmong? In what ways is home an important part of your identity and experience?
14. At the end of the book, the soul caller begins his chant to bring Lia’s spirit home. What do you think happens following the chant?
15. Towards the end of the story Sukey asks, “What is more important, the life or the soul?” How would you respond given your own beliefs and values?
16. What lessons do you take from the book? How can this book apply to your college experience? How might it apply to your future career path?