Daughter of the notable American writer and scholar Clifton Fadiman,writer Anne Fadiman made a name for herself in 1997 with the publication of her remarkable book about the clash of Hmong and American culture, "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down." It's the nonfiction account of a family of Hmong immigrants who are trying to navigate the American medical system when their three-month-old baby, Lia, is diagnosed with epilepsy. (The book's title comes from the Hmong description of the disease.)
I heard Fadiman speak 10 years ago at a conference at Harvard University; she was eloquent, charming and winsome, those big eyes peering out from under her thick fringe of bangs as she told about how she came to write the book, originally as a piece for the New Yorker. But the research took years and years, and during that time New Yorker editors left, or died, and new ones came, and when she finally had the piece completed, Tina Brown said no thanks, and so, instead, it became a book.
That book is now 15 years old, and out in a new paperback "classic" edition from Farrar Straus & Giroux with a new afterword by Fadiman, bringing us up to date on where all the notable characters are today. (And Lia, the epileptic toddler in the center of the story, is quite remarkably still alive.)
It's a fascinating, well-told book about Hmong culture and immigration and the push-push-push of American doctors. (Now older, and, presumably, wiser, the pediatricians who treated Lia told Fadiman for the afterword, "As pediatricians at the end of our careers instead of at the beginning, we might push a little less on the family. In the end, we think the results would have been the same.")
Fadiman will be in St. Paul next week as part of Club Book. She'll speak at the Highland Park Public Library, 1974 Ford Parkway, St. Paul, at 7 p.m. Monday.
(Note: There's been some mention that she'll be doing a second talk the next day, but that's not correct. See her Monday in St. Paul, or don't see her at all.) (My recommendation: See her.)