It’s about a Hmong child with epilepsy, and struggle of the American medical establishment to treat her and to deal with parents who operate from a very different cultural mindset (they halfway believe in allopathic medicine, but they also sincerely believe in ghosts and magic and think that her disease is caused by spirits, for instance).
The book is very odd because it doesn’t come with a prepackaged lesson. It contains broad disquisitions about the Hmong character and about their tribulations and the way they’re treated in America…but it stops short of saying, “And this is how the world needs to be different.”
I’m not sure that there is any easy lesson to be drawn from the story in this book.
What it asks, in a way, is whether an immigrant group can live in America without assimilating to dominant cultural attitudes. And the answer is…it can. But it’s not quite able to answer the question of whether that group should be allowed that freedom and independence.
In a way, it’s chosen the best and most startling incident for its narrative, because a girl’s life is very literally at stake. However, the truth is murky. It’s not at all clear that she would’ve been much better off if the doctor’s letters had been followed to a T. In some ways, it seems like her life would’ve been worse off if she’d been born to a white American family that believed her disability was something to be eradicated, rather than something to be adapted-to and ameliorated.
Very interesting book. I would probably have more to say about it if I wasn’t writing this at 1 AM.