University of Vermont

First Year Summer Read

First Year Summer Read

First Year Summer Read

The Spirit Catachces You and You Fall DownThe Summer Reading Program is a new student’s first introduction to the academic life of the university. Each year the selected book is integrated into foundation courses from each academic college for discussion as a way for students to engage with the book's themes both inside and outside the classroom.

All  UVM first-year students are required to read the summer selection for the start of their Fall Semester. Various foundation courses in which they are enrolled in will incorporate this reading into their sylabus during their first semester.

The 2015 Summer Reading

This year's summer reading selection is the award-winning The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman.

The novel will be available for purchase in-person or online at the UVM Bookstore for a discounted price.

Author Anne Fadiman will be giving a campus lecture on September 15th, 2015 (details tbd).

About the Book

When three-month-old Lia Lee arrived at the county hospital emergency room in Merced, California, a chain of events was set in motion from which neither she nor her parents nor her doctors would ever recover. Lia's parents, Foua and Nao Kao, were part of a large Hmong community in Merced, refugees from the CIA-run "Quiet War" in Laos. The Hmong, traditionally close-knit, have been less amenable to assimilation than most immigrants, adhering steadfastly to the rituals and beliefs of their ancestors. Lia's pediatricians, Neil Ernst and his wife, Peggy Philip, cleaved just as strongly to another tradition: that of Western medicine. When Lia Lee entered the American medical system, diagnosed as an epileptic, her story became a tragic case history of cultural miscommunication.

Parents and doctors both wanted the best for Lia, but their ideas about the causes of her illness and its treatment could hardly have been more different. The Hmong see illness and healing as spiritual matters linked to virtually everything in the universe, while medical community marks a division between body and soul, and concerns itself almost exclusively with the former. Lia's doctors ascribed her seizures to the misfiring of her cerebral neurons; her parents called her illness, qaug dab peg—the spirit catches you and you fall down—and ascribed it to the wandering of her soul. The doctors prescribed anticonvulsants; her parents preferred animal sacrifices. 

Anne Fadiman's compassionate account of this cultural impasse is literary journalism at its finest. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down moves from hospital corridors to healing ceremonies, and from the hill country of Laos to the living rooms of Merced, uncovering in its path the complex sources and implications of two dramatically clashing worldviews. 

More on Anne Fadiman

Last modified February 09 2015 02:36 PM