Deep respect for the tremendous amount of research that went into this book. Fadiman's clear journalistic style is also something I wished I'd encountered earlier, in a CNF writing class, to show that a engaging story can be created without a messy flaunting of the the "I". Her character is a quiet figure in the background, polite, terrified of offending, trying to conceal her sincere interest and eagerness about the case of the child Lia Lee. But through patience and a fortunate selection of go-betweens and translators/"cultural brokers" (it's all about who you know) the family opens up to her. I love the moment of girl bonding when she is gussied up in Hmong costume. Personal moments like these make up for the chapters of dry history that the book is interspersed with. But I found myself reading those anyway, because they didn't go on for too long that I lost interest. That's proof of skilled reportage right there, because my eyes usually glaze over at historical treatises.
However, a quick search will turn up a few reviews from the Hmong/Hmong-Americans, that point out a few inaccuracies in the information presented in the book, and other problems such as concepts that get misinterpreted during translation:
But this is inevitable, and we can't assume also that Hmong culture is the same all throughout. Maybe some things are true for Lia's family that aren't true for other Hmong families. So maybe it's not lack of fact-checking but simply that we can't generalize. Anyway, the Hmong reviewers' opinion is generally favorable. As another reviewer wrote here, Anne Fadiman's heart is in the right place. She does her best to present both sides fairly, even if, as she admits herself, she sometimes tends to romanticize the Hmong. But if some reviewers decry "Western bias!", so what? She is
Western. She already did her darndest to look at things from the other side, and if any Western influences sneak in, it cannot be helped. It's always tough to write from an in-between state. It's almost like being a shaman herself, trying to cross the boundaries between two worlds. And to think I'd never heard of the Hmong people people, and now I do. So I think this awareness (I mean, beyond people in California and other parts of the USA, who might already be acquainted with them) is one of the triumphs of the book.
Again, I wish I'd read this sooner. New CNF idol.
PS. One remedy involved inserting a silver coin into a hardboiled egg and rolling it all over the body. That stood out for me because I heard about this from my Chinese friends! Although they said instead of turning black, the egg is supposed to be filled with little hairs that the egg is supposed to have sucked out of the body, that's why they call it the "fur/hair sickness" or something like that. I wonder if this is something the Hmong got from the Chinese, or the other way around. :) They also mention the ventusa (the vacuum therapy, or "cupping") and coin rubbing/scraping. My boyfriend makes me do the scraping thing (you get a sharp edge like a credit card, and rub the skin somewhere on the back, near the nape, until it's as red as a lobster) to him sometimes when his body is "overheated".