Anne Fadiman delves into the issues that affect the Lee family from that hails from Hmong. The family goes to America and struggle with several immigration issues. They run away from Laos because there is a war that is waging. Because people have lost property and find it hard to survive, they have to move to another place. The mother in the family is called Foua, while the father is called Nao Kao. To make it to their destination, they pass through many hardships, including dodging bullets. Their main aim is that their 12 children should make it to the refugee camp safe.
As they stay in the camp, Foua gives birth to their 13th child. The immigration officials move the family to California. The move was meant to ensure that refugees are distributed uniformly in the country.
Lia, the 14th child, is also born in America. She is born in a hospital with the hope that can make it easy for her to obtain the citizenship documents. Lia appears healthy at first. Later, the doctors diagnosed her with epilepsy. The disease affects the functioning of the nervous system. In the culture of the people from Hmong, this is a disease believed to be controlled by the spirits. Lia’s parents believed that the spirit of their daughter had been captured by a spirit called dab. Consequently, the spirit would not release it.
There is a clash in the belief by the American doctors and Lia’s parents. Because of the breakdown in communication, it becomes hard to manage the child’s condition. In the Lees view, the approach that the doctors took to manage the condition was inappropriate. The doctors recommend that Lia should be taken for foster care because her parents could not read and follow the directives on the use of seizure medicines.
Lia continued experiencing the seizure attacks. Things became worse with each passing day. It got to a point she could not talk or even involve herself in social interactions. Later, her brain was paralyzed.
In the book, the author goes on to assess the situation in a bid to find out who should get the blame for Lia’s situation. Could the doctors have done more with their western medicine? Were the parents to blame since they found it hard to follow the directives from the doctor? In the process of the examination, the book does not give any conclusion.