title: Darius the Great is Not Okay
author: Adib Khorram
date: Dial Books; August 2018
main character: Darius Kellner
Review based upon an advanced copy.
Darius Kellner is a high school sophomore in Portland. He comes from a tight-knit family, but doesn’t have a particularly close relationship with his father. Darius’ hobbies include brewing tea and all things Star Trek. And, he has depression. When his family receives news that his maternal grandfather is dying, they make the decision to go to Iran to see him one last time. It’s been years since Darius’ mother has returned home and her husband (he’s European American) and children have never been there. Darius is somewhat anxious about this trip, about having to talk to be people he should know quite well, but doesn’t. In fact, he’s anxious about talking in general because unlike his younger sister, he doesn’t speak Farsi. While in Yazd, Darius actually makes a friend and this changes everything for him.
Khorram writes about Persian culture and life in Yazd in a way that is clear and easy to imagine. His details arise organically as Darius learns about the land of his origin. The pace and preciseness of the details feel as if he’s writing for someone already familiar with the culture and the rest of us are just along for the ride. The story clearly centers Persian culture. There is mention of the fact that Darius’ dad is of European descent. I think it’s most obvious in a scene at an historic site where Darius’ mom made sure his dad wasn’t left alone for his own safety, but little came of it. The book is not about American/Iranian politics. While I’m impressed with how much I learned about the rich history, mouthwatering foods and cultural practices of Persian culture, it’s really the relationship between Darius and Sohrab that is the basis for the story. Darius began to open up the moment he met Sohrab,
I reached for something else to say, but I came up blank.
Sohrab didn’t seem to mind, though. It was a comfortable silence between us. Not awkward at all.
I liked that I could be silent with Sohrab.
That’s how I knew we really were going to be friends. (ARC p, 94)
Really, now many people do you meet with whom you can be silent and still be comfortable? These two just met! Darius’ typical reply to anyone is “Ummm” but, he’s able to tell Sohrab so much more.
Of course there’s point in the story where their friendship is tested. It has to be! It’s in this moment when we find out how real this relationship really is.
I think what Darius the Great really empowers is a redefinition of gender expression by developing a friendship between two male characters who quite often touch each other. In doing so, the Western concept of masculinity is questioned. Darius has been without friendship, without it’s companionship and its intimacy for such a long time that he’s okay with being touched; he needs it. There’s such an interesting psychological element to the story told in first person when we know how Darius thinks and what he believes, but we’re given another perspective on a given situation that discredits Darius’ thoughts but rather than doubting him, we see how his depression colors his world.
He needs it just as he needs to know his grandparents, his father and even himself. He needs to know how to avoid those dark places in his mind. Darius is still learning. He’s not okay, but we get the feeling that he will be. I strongly recommend this book.
I loved being Sohrab’s friend.
I loved who being Sohrab’s friend made me.
“You’re going to miss it here, aren’t you?”
“Yeah.” I played with my tassel. “I think I am.” (ARC p, 266)