In the 1960s, the CIA recruited a primitive but fiercely independent people in Laos -- the mountain farmer/nomads known as the Hmong -- to fight the Communist forces, and all but promised to take care of them if they and the US lost. When the war was lost, many of the Hmong were abandoned to imprisonment and death, but those who were "rescued" and brought to the states fared no better: Their clans were dispersed, their culture all but destroyed, and their lives battered and often ended by American prejudice and well-meaning ignorance. All this is background to Fadiman's tale of one particular family in Merced, California whose daughter has epilepsy -- the book's title comes from the Hmong phrase for it, "quag dab peg" -- and how even the sophisticated, sympathetic American medical system and its practitioners all but kill her in their efforts to help her. This deeply compassionate and gripping acccount won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and is both spellbinding and heartbreaking.
This report prepared by David Loftus