Mis(h)adra is a hard work to criticize, largely because it’s so personal and so raw in its portrayal of the intimate. Iasmin Omar Ata is an epileptic and Mis(h)adra is autobiographical in that respect. Following Isaac as he struggles in college due to epilepsy, Ata has crafted a revealing work — not revealing of his personal self, to be honest, but revealing of the epileptic experience in terms that someone who has never had anything close to that can begin to understand.
Isaac is aware of his epilepsy, which he was diagnosed with several years before, but something’s changed. His spells are becoming more intense, his triggers more delicate, and his ability to rebound more difficult. The latter issue has become so difficult that it is starting to effect friendships and casual relationships, turning any given interaction or social event into a disastrous nightmare for him. Forget about the rigors of going to college, doing the work that needs to be done, maintaining that work. Isaac is falling apart.
To make the situation worse, when he attempts to find medical help for this spiraling situation, he finds his concerns rebuffed, his belief that something has changed about his epilepsy shrugged off.
Enter Jo, who takes it upon herself to show Isaac support at all costs. At a time when friends are dropping like flies, exasperated by Isaac’s inability to follow through on the basics of friendship because of his medical struggle, and Isaac’s family takes a step back out of confusion and shame, Jo seems determined to be the antidote.
I could quibble with certain aspects of the telling, for instance, I feel like it could be a shorter work, but that just feels like it misses the point of the book. Ata has crafted a pretty harrowing depiction of what an epilepsy sufferer experiences, both externally and internally. It’s that internal part that’s really important here. In order to portray what goes on psychologically, neurologically, during the fits, Ata takes Isaac into a realm of neon-psychedelia that displaces him from the real world and shreds his perceptions of what’s actually going on. It’s in these abstract spaces that he is most lost, most ready to pack it in, and it’s these passages that make the book truly special. If at times the other scenes can feel like exposition about the situation Isaac is in, these sections show you the painful displacement he experiences, the loss of self and surroundings, and the internal terror that we on the outside could never see, and that’s powerful stuff.
It’s also helpful. To be fair, the exposition puts these abstract sections into a context that makes the feel a bit like an overpowering manual that brings you into the sufferer’s experience in order to not only build sympathy, but practicality. I can imagine Mis(h)adra doing a great job to help others in the situation — Isaac’s, of course, but also his friend’s and family’s — in a direct way, and I truly hope it manages to find this audience.