Chapter 19th and Book Overview

The end of the novel was very open ended and vague. After a long description of the ceremony and tradition that the Twiv Neeb performs, we were left with no answer as to whether Lia would be saved and her soul would be found. While I was disappointed that there was not a concrete answer to what would happen in Lia’s future, I thought Chapter 19’s focus on Hmong tradition was fitting with the theme of the overall novel. Tradition is a prevalent theme throughout the novel and this search for Lia’s soul through sacrificing the pig is an important Hmong tradition to understand. I found it very interesting that in this chapter that focused so deeply on the details of Hmong tradition, they still mention what the Americans would think of this sacred tradition. Why during such a sacred time are they stuck thinking about what differing cultures may think of something that is so important to them? On page 282, it says, “What if an American were to stroll past and see a dead pig on the floor and nine people tied up in twine?” Again, the push and pull between cultures has been a important theme in the novel, but I found it sad that in the final chapter there was still worry from the Hmong about what Americans would think of their traditions.

The novel as a whole was engaging and challenging. I enjoyed that there was both a story to follow and get invested in and also general culture and history of Hmong. There is a quote in the final chapter of the book that I think summarizes my general takeaway of the novel perfectly. On page 280, the author writes, “A Hmong proverb says, “With friends, flavorless vegetables are as tasty as meat, and water is as good as wine.'” This relates to the Hmong culture in so many ways. The Hmong people look to each other and their culture for support in everything they do and we see this many times throughout the novel. When Hmong people support from one another, their life gets better and easier, just as the quote says. Another reason I liked the novel is because of the emphasis on tradition they put on the Hmong culture. Personally, I feel unclear about my own culture and what traditions I value, so to read about a culture where they have such clear beliefs and standards was eye opening.

Overall, I wish the ending of this book was more conclusive. I hoped for a happy ending where Lia is safe, the Lee family is understood, and the constant struggle between the Hmong and American medical culture is finally suppressed. The novel offers a lot of interesting ideas about our medical system and how it can improve. After reading the novel and discussing in class, I think cultural competence is a clear goal that we need to strive for in the US medical system. Rather than strive for perfection, its time to strive for understanding.

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