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Book Review < Back


Credits: Written and Illustrated by David B.
Publisher: Pantheon Books


Epilepsy afflicts about 45 million people worldwide, yet science can explain less than 30 percent of those cases. The mysterious place where the other 70 percent are left to live, the vortex where knowledge of the medical, the mental, and the mystic all fall short simultaneously, is the region that David B. fearlessly charts in EPILEPTIC.

Originally published in France as L'Ascension du Haut-Mal, EPILEPTIC is an autobiographical graphic novel documenting David B.'s coming of age in the 1960s and 70s, during which his family was preoccupied with his brother's epilepsy disorder. They desperately search for a treatment, encountering demanding doctors, sphinx-like gurus, and popular movements, while the history of France marches on in the background. A radical surgery is rejected, and Algiers is surrendered. Specialized diets fail, as police and students clash in Paris.

David B. is a detective; he seeks to find meaning in his memories by following clues through the histories of war and philosophy, researching the branches of the Kabala Tree of Life as well as his own family tree. He illustrates his findings in stunning black and white art loaded with warmth and symbolism; it's as if Charles Schultz apprenticed as a Catholic manuscript illuminator during the Bauhaus period.

Throughout his wide-ranging explorations, David B. saves his most delicate and affecting depictions for his own family. You never forget these are true events that happened to five real people: the struggling parents, the bemused sister, the creative author, and the frustrated epileptic.

Because it never hurts to be reminded, EPILEPTIC shows how art and imagination can enlighten as more rational disciplines fail us. David B. describes vexing phenomena as large as history or family, or as tiny as a split-second electrical interruption of the brain, with an elegance, conviction and humanity that any doctor would envy.

-- Sam Humphries


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