Festival of Ideas May 2017
A Smell of Burning: The Story of Epilepsy
One day Colin Grant’s teenage brother Christopher failed to emerge from the bathroom. His family broke down the door to find him unconscious on the floor. None of their lives were ever the same again. Christopher was diagnosed with epilepsy.
For many years epilepsy was associated with mental illness or even possession by devils. People with epilepsy were forbidden to marry or have children. Many became victims of Nazi eugenics programmes. To this day many people with epilepsy – 60 million worldwide – still live in fear of exposure.
Grant traces the history of the condition and the pioneering doctors whose extraordinary breakthroughs finally helped gain an understanding of how the brain works. He tells the stories of famous people with epilepsy like Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Vincent Van Gogh, and through the tragic tale of his brother, he considers the effect of epilepsy on his own life.
Colin Grant is an author, historian and Associate Fellow at the Centre for Caribbean Studies. He has worked as a BBC TV script editor and radio producer on Radio 4 and the World Service. He writes for Granta and the Guardian and has written and produced several radio drama-documentaries including A Fountain of Tears: The Murder of Federico Garcia Lorca. He is the author of Negro with a Hat; I & I The Natural Mystics and Bageye at the Wheel which was short-listed for the PEN/Ackerley Prize. A Smell of Burning is his latest book. Follow him on Twitter @colincraiggrant
Image credit: Colin Grant