Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction
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 a close-knit people, 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.
©1997 Anne Fadiman, Afterword copyright 2012 by Anne Fadiman (P)2015 Audible Inc.
This is a great narrative of medical anthropology. So my comments for people considering it aren't about the content of the book, but about the production quality of the audiobook. The narrator mispronounces truly basic English words so often that I was both amazed and distracted. Any right minded producer should have corrected these mistakes. I applaud this reader for her Hmong pronunciations, but the tone and pace of the rest of the text is pretty weird. I still recommend it, but you should know that going in.
I really enjoyed the subject matter of this book, but was deeply disappointed with the narrator. Her poor pronunciations forced me to relisten to numerous parts of this book because I was unable to use context clues to determine the word. Sometimes these were words that failed to correspond to English phonics, but others should be a common part of a narrator's lexicon.
I have to echo the complaints of other listeners: the mispronunciations in this audiobook and little girl-ish voice of the narrator makes this listenable only by someone intent on appreciating Anne Fadiman's writing and perspective. As a story of culture clash, the book works very well--Fadiman is constantly open to the possibility of there being two different, conflicting, and yet equally valid interpretation of any situation, and she is a champion of sympathy and understanding no matter how challenging the individual or culture.
Pamela Xiong, on the other hand, not only struggles with the occasional unfamiliar word but outright butchers common ones: VAGGrunt (vagrant); indicked (indict); Wash-and-Dreeze (Wash 'n' Dris). Her attempts at dramatic emphasis come off silly and strident. Her male voices of authority are a parody of a woman attempting to imitate a man. The whole performance is just cringeworthy. It's amazing that no one has the sense to stop the production after 30 minutes of recording and hire another reader. Such a shame to see a fine book treated so poorly.
I read this book when it was first published in the 1990s; I was glad to read it again as an audiobook and especially appreciated the afterword and update on the characters, institutions, and (having later lived in Minneapolis-St.Paul and been exposed to a vital postmillenial Hmong population) cultures/people.
HOWEVER, like every other reviewer, I was disappointed and annoyed by the narrator. Perhaps Pamela Xiong is Hmong herself; she certainly seemed to be doing an excellent job of pronouncing Hmong words. But her pronunciation of English words was so bad as to be distracting. Worse than that, though, was the choice of an Asian, Hmong-culturally familiar reader. The whole point of the book is cross-cultural understanding and misunderstanding and it is written in the first person by Anne Fadiman, who is a white, utterly assimilated American who knows nothing about the Hmong to start with, when the original story was commissioned as a New Yorker article! To choose an Asian reader is just bizarre--it's like having Pride and Prejudice narrated by Mr Darcy (that is, by a British male such as Simon Vance) when the whole point of *that* book is the misunderstandings that arise between male and female and anyway, even though it isn't in first person, it's obviously written from the POV of Elizabeth.
This weird, inexplicable choice grated on me throughout. When Ms Xiong would say "I" did this or that which reflected unfamiliarity and learning about the Hmong, I almost laughed! Talk about distracting--puzzling over this choice was as bad as the mispronounciations. The only advantage of this narrator was her apparently correct usage of Hmong--which Anne Fadiman didn't have at all when she started to write, and doesn't have as a native speaker now.
Anyway, this is the worst and most glaring example of a choice of reader I've ever encountered on Audible. I still don't know who Pamela Xiong is, but she has a pleasant voice and, with a competent editor, could read any number of titles. She doesn't even have to be typecast to read Asian books. But this choice was wrong, wrong, WRONG for her and badly edited too.
A different reader and correction pronunciation of words.
Most memorable is Fadiman's deep reporting and research. The book gave me an understanding of Hmong culture and a lesson about the cultural blind spots with which we all operate.
I'm disappointed that Audible released a performance with so many pronunciation errors -- premmed for pre-med, post-HUMEous for posthumous, feBREELe for febrile. These are a few of many. Doesn't an editor listen to these before they're released? The dialogue was also over-acted.
This is both the story of one Hmong family's interactions with the medical community and the larger story of he Hmong people in America. The author keeps it interesting by switching back and forth between the larger picture and the focused view.
The reader has a nice voice with no accent and seems to know how to pronounce the Hmong words ( although I wouldn't know) but has many mispronounced words that are very distracting and occasionally confusing.
I know this will sound a bit ironic in light of the story, but the reader's mispronunciation of half of the words drove me CRAZY! It's not acceptable for a reader to err on SO many words.
...In this book that needed better editing (it drags, repeats, and is awkwardly organized) and better production of the audio version (the multi lingual reader has a lovely clear voice but makes egregious pronunciation errors in English that are very hard to listen to). Despite these problems, the story of the Hmong people and of the Li family have influenced my awareness of my own cultural sensitivity and blindness. It was worth my time.
This is a great book and an important one. I think everyone should read or listen to it. A few years ago I requested that audible get this book on audiobook and was very excited when I saw that an audio version had been produced recently.
The narrator's voice is very pleasant and easy to listen to. This seems to be her only audiobook so I definitely think she did a good job if this was her first time. The main issues I had with the audiobook should have been caught by an editor. I wonder if it had been edited at all.
Like some other reviewers have mentioned, a lot of English words were mispronounced (e.g. egregious, posthumous, all plural possessive nouns and more). The mistakes became more frequent as the story went on. Besides words, sometimes the intonation of a phrase gave it the complete opposite meaning. As an example, a tongue-in-cheek remark by a doctor that family practitioners weren't smart enough to pick a more lucrative field came out as if they actually werent smart enough to be other types of doctors. At first it wasn't a big deal, but as the story one on, the lack of editing became very distracting and I had to rewind a few sections more than once because I was having a hard time understanding what she was trying to say.
I'd really like to see the production company go back and re-record the sections that have mistakes. Many of the mispronounced words are repeated multiple times, like posthumous, febrile, intravenous, parents', etc. The only reason it wasn't more irritating was because I made a little game of catching the mistakes and bookmarking them, so I'd be able to let the company know exactly when the mistakes occurred. I will update this review if I become aware that the mistakes were corrected.
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