The first and most important theme is: cultural understanding. The author uses the battle between the doctors of Merced and Lia’s parents as a way of emphasizing that we, as Americans, need to be more sensitive to the various aspects of different cultures or we are no longer the melting pot we have always claimed to be.

The second theme is: a little medicine, a little neeb, or soul. This refers to the idea that the doctors needed only accept the idea that along with their medical treatment of the Hmong, they needed to accept that there must also be room for the Hmong concept of the soul. In other words, nothing works well without compromise.

A final theme tells us when everything else disappears, there is always love. The doctors held firm to their method of treatment while the Lees demanded respect for their culture. In the end, with Lia in a vegetative state, all that was left was love for her and care for her needs.


The mood is one of frustration and stress throughout much of the book as the author attempts to explain how the collision of two cultures led to the tragedy of seven year old girl left in a vegetative state. There are moments of triumph when people learn from the mistakes of the past, but they are few and far between the tragic moments for little Lia Lee.

Biography - Anne Fadiman

Anne Fadiman was born on August 7, 1953 in New York and grew up in Southern California and Connecticut. She graduated from Harvard University in 1975 and is married to George Howe Colt, also an author. They have two children and reside in Massachusetts.

After college she worked in Montana as a wilderness skills and mountaineering teacher.

Anne Fadiman began her writing career at Harvard, where she was a columnist on the Harvard Magazine. She has written for Life magazine and Harper’s, served as the editor of Phi Beta Kappa’s The American Scholar and was the editor of the Library of Congress Publication Civilization. She now holds the honor of the Francis chair in nonfiction writing at Yale University.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down was her first novel, published in 1997.
It was awarded many honors including:
A Salon Book Award Winner
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction
Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Current Interest
Boston Book Review 1997
Ann Rea Jewell Non-Fiction Prize
A New York Times Notable Book
Selected as “A Best Book of the Year” by several publications: People, Newsday, Glamour, Detroit Free Press
Finalist PEN / Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction

She has published two other books of essays:
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays

Cite this page:

Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down". . 09 May 2017