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Lee Child’s Echo Burning, and some more nonfiction: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Sorry I’ve been absent for a bit. But I have been doing some good reading.

Last week, my workday reading was Lee Child’s Echo Burning. Child and his character, Reacher, were recommended to me in my RA class, and I picked up Echo Burning because it’s set in the vast west Texas desert, an area I’m a little bit familiar with.

Child’s series starring Jack Reacher was compared by my classmate and teacher to Connelly’s series starring Harry Bosch, of which you might have noticed I’m a fan. I really read Connelly to get more of Bosch, and Reacher does share some resemblance. Bosch, while an anti-authority loner type, does actually work for the authorities as a police detective, although he’s always at odds with his bosses and occasionally leaves the fold just to make things interesting. Reacher is a former military policeman (MP) turned rogue do-gooder, in a violent sort of way. Neither has a great deal of respect for authority or the rules that dictate the way they should go about solving crimes or problems, although Harry grudgingly plays along, most of the time, at least in the clues he leaves behind, because he has to present a prosecutable case to his DA.

Reacher doesn’t have a mission like Bosch does; in this book, and I get the impression in all, he’s merely drifting, moving through town, and gets caught up in problems he then goes about solving. Bosch has a job to do, and does it well and willingly; Reacher is just taking what comes up. Actually, in many ways the Reacher story reminds me of a western, especially with this setting; he’s the lone ranger rolling through town, taking care of business and moving along. He has an endearing, chivalrous care for the ladies, but he’s awfully rough around the edges, and starkly violent.

I loved it. It was just similar enough to Connelly to get me excited – the characters were similar but different, and would probably respect one another, although they wouldn’t stick around to get to be friends. I enjoyed the setting and recognized it, which is always fun (we all enjoy realistic settings in our own hometowns, right?). I guess it had a number of my requirements: strong sense of place; moody, gritty, dark tone; and a certain “type” of main character. I think I’ll be looking for Reacher again.

This weekend I got involved in another work of nonfiction, and I have to say, I find it remarkably similar to a recent read (but I’ll tell you about that another day, so as not to ruin it). I’m about two-thirds of the way through, now, with The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman. (There’s an excellent chance I’ll finish tonight.)

This book is about a little girl and her family’s experience: Lia Lee is a Hmong child, born in Merced, CA to recent immigrants from the Hmong people’s extended journey through China and Laos. She has severe epilepsy, and the book centers around the conflict between her family and culture, and western medicine, in their two very different understandings of what her illness is, what causes it, and how it should be treated. In addressing Lia’s story, Fadiman gives us a brief history of the Hmong people’s culture and history. It is absolutely fascinating, and for me, the cultural aspects make this book special.

It’s an educational book because it provides lots of information and facts, properly cited, about medicine and epilepsy, as well as about the Hmong people in history (and the U.S. involvement in Vietnam and Laos), their immigration here, and the treatment of refugees by our welfare and other systems. But like I said, the cultural interactions are most interesting to me. The local hospital and medical system struggle to treat Lia and give her the best possible life; her parents likewise want her to be happy and healthy. But they have such fundamental differences… it’s not like two doctors debating two courses of treatment; we’re talking about two absolutely non-compatible, to the extent that they’re not really translatable, understandings of what’s wrong with her and the causes of her disease. Translation is almost not possible in the traditional sense because of cultural norms that don’t allow for direct translation. Californians and the Hmong have so recently met that there’s no precedent for much of a need for translation; there hasn’t been time for much bilingualism to develop, nor has their been much interest, on either side. (I should note this book is more than ten years old, so the current situation is a little different.)

I’m totally engrossed in the story of Lia and her family, but equally so in the story of the Hmong people in history. I’m also intrigued by the involvement of the author/narrator and her experience in researching the book. One lesson or concept that I’m coming away with is the ease with which we can condemn someone as having done the Wrong thing, and the difficulty with which we can come up with the Right thing. This is something that always occurs to me in politics. I can clearly see policies or politicians with whom I disagree because they’re Wrong; but in such a big, complicated, diverse world, with such intertwined goals, interrelated causes and effects, and various goals, I have an awfully hard time clearly seeing The Right Way. This is why I am not running for public office! Anyway – Lia’s story might well make you realize that nobody was entirely right or entirely wrong (certainly not wrong in their intentions and best efforts) and yet, Lia did not get optimal care. These cultural exchanges are, whew, hard.

I recommend this book and hope you’ll join me in enjoying it. If you haven’t already guessed what recent read I’m comparing it to, stay tuned. To me it’s just as obvious as anything but we’ll see. Feel free to post your guess here… Til soon, enjoy your week and your books.

8 Responses

  1. […] and I wish this aspect would have played into the body of the book. As I’ve said of several nonfiction books I’ve read before, I enjoy the author’s voice, and her/his experience in research […]

  2. […] written about Reacher quite a bit. He continues to be big and burly and frankly, sexy, and tough and uber-capable and clever. The […]

  3. […] thing: I think I keep saying this, but I think it’s the best one yet! I can’t decide. Echo Burning was my very first Reacher experience, and holds a special place for me because of the South Texas […]

  4. […] Echo Burning, my very first Reacher book! I fell in love, not only with Reacher himself, but with the setting: far West Texas, where the desert of my home state meets Mexico and lawlessness reigns. An attractive housewife in a horrible predicament needs Reacher’s help, professional killers are on their way, and the final showdown remains one of my favorites. […]

  5. […] one follows Echo Burning, my very first Lee Child read. Reacher has just hitchhiked cross-country, from Los Angeles to […]

  6. […] began reading Lee Child in late 2010, with Echo Burning, and loved him. In 2011, I ran through almost the entire Jack Reacher series. I’m glad I […]

  7. […] Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman, read almost like partner volumes to me. These two nonfiction works share […]

  8. […] next books on my list (for the Shelf), The Wine Lover’s Daughter by Anne Fadiman (author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, which was one of the first books I personally recognized as “creative nonfiction” as I […]

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