DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY is a powerful tale of a young man’s struggle to find worth in himself while dealing with mental illness.
Every once in a while, you read a book that really connects with you from a personal standpoint. You read the character’s point of view and how they process their situation, and you completely understand. The character becomes real to you, because you understand what that character is feeling, and maybe you’ve dealt with similar situations or have had similar thoughts and feelings.
Darius the Great is Not Okay is one of those books that readers can really connect with in a way that feels personal, with all the ups and downs that one can go through, especially during their coming-of-age years. And for those that read this book having already gone through their coming-of-age years, I think it also gives them a special sense of empathy.
What makes Darius’ case a bit more special are a couple of things. One major factor is that Darius suffers from clinical depression which is treated with medication, something that likely helps the worst effects of clinical depression, but doesn’t cure it or prevent some of the other, less aggressive effects.
Secondly, being a not-so-slender half-Iranian has brought about all sorts of prejudices against him from various sorts of people, which only strengthens the hold his depression has on him, elevating his indecisiveness on pretty much everything, including his father’s love for him. He already considers himself as a “fractional” Persian, a term he uses often and seemingly demeaning, as compared to his mom’s side, which he considers to be “true” Persians.
In the beginning of the book, we see how he doesn’t feel himself quite fitting in at school. He considers very few classmates as friends, and even his closest friend feels more like an acquaintance, hinting at the idea they’re only friends because she’s also Iranian. Even his younger sister, who speaks fluent Farsi, has more friends than he does. So, yes, life is depressing for Darius.
When he’s told they’re going to a family trip to Iran to visit his mom’s side of the family and his grandfather who has a brain tumor, he’s unsure how to feel about meeting his extended family for the first time in person. He’s only ever spoken with them over the internet and he often doesn’t know what to make of his Babou’s (grandfather’s) expressions when they attempt to speak with each other.
The rest of the book takes us on a wondrous and poignant journey in Iran through Darius’ eyes. We get to “see” some historical sites throughout his mom’s hometown province while, to meet his relatives whom he has awkward encounters with, and drool over his descriptions of some Persian food, which we’ll get more into in the second half of this post.
When Darius befriends a young man his age named Sohrab, he finally sees hope in having a true friend, one who doesn’t judge him, who understands him, and makes him see himself as belonging.
Author Adib Khorram really paints a powerfully descriptive picture that shows not only what it might be like for someone with mental illness, but does so in a way that relates to people who don’t. Even though Darius questions everything and is often indecisive when it comes to understanding people’s feelings, especially when he notes how their smile is “almost” real, or how they are “maybe” happy, it’s not something that we haven’t questioned ourselves. This is not something that is exclusive to Darius. Of course, people can relate to him in that way, but we can only empathize at the severity of it when one has clinical depression. That’s what makes this such a powerful story.
For a young person who’s still trying to find his place, growing up is hard. For a young person of color who has a mental illness, this book has the ability to teach others how much more problematic issues can be. I admire Khorram for shedding some light on the matter, and I hope that people young and older can learn a lot from this book.
There are some insightful moments, some funny moments, and definitely some moments that will break your heart. All in all, this book is an amazing debut novel for Khorram, and I’m glad to have gone through this journey to learn about Darius and about his family and how he comes to grips with who he is and how much greater he could become.
My Rating: A
Darius and Persian Food