Darius Kellner is a fractional Persian who has lived in Portland his entire life. One day, his family receives news that pushes them to return home to Darius’ mother’s hometown Yazd, Iran for the holidays. There, Darius discovers more about the family, culture and heritage he never really knew and finds somewhere he feels like he belongs.
This story charts Darius’ changing relationships with his father, his extended family in Iran and his new friend Sohrab. The book expounds on the complicated nature of these human relationships but the best parts were the ones which explored Darius’ relationship to his culture. For instance, Darius cannot speak Farsi and sometimes feels left out in his own home. We later learn how Darius learns to embrace his culture and family despite these language barriers.
As a Chinese Singaporean, I’m sometimes curious about where my ancestors were from and what they were like. Like Darius, I want to feel like I belong to a culture and right now, I think I identify more with my nationality than my general ethnicity, i.e. Singaporean Chinese vs. Mainland Chinese. I now feel like I shouldn’t have taken my mandatory Chinese lessons for granted and I’m playing serious catch up in order to learn more about my heritage and embrace the Chinese culture in my local context. As such, I can relate to the desire to learn about one’s family history that Khorram portrays, even if my situation is a little bit different.
I didn’t particularly enjoy the writing because it was heavily loaded with geeky references to LOTR and Star Trek. However, it did make Darius’ voice incredibly unique, so I guess this is up to personal preference. (Note: I’ve since found a review on Goodreads which explains in detail what I couldn’t express about the writing style throughout the book. Read the review here if you choose.)
There were some references to the historic architecture, like when they visited Persepolis, but I didn’t think the descriptions were very well done. Granted, beauty meant for the eyes is hard to translate into words, but in that case, I think an interesting addition would have been to add Stephen Kellner’s architectural drawings. That way, we would be able to see what the place actually looked like and the drawings could still fit with the story. Nevertheless, I understand that there are likely overhead constraints preventing that from coming to fruition, so I’ll give it a pass.
One memorable scene was when Darioush and his family visited a Zoroastrian fire temple, and Darioush said that he could almost feel the spirits of his ancestors echo all around him. It’s definitely something powerful to know where you come from, especially when your identity has strong ties to a geographical place, culture or heritage. The scene could have been a powerful one, and probably the best in the whole book, but it didn’t really work for me. Maybe I was rushing through it too quickly?
Yazd Atash Behram, a Zoroastrian fire temple in Yazd (Image credit)
That’s about it for my thoughts on the book itself. To summarise, would recommend if you…
- Enjoy learning about new cultures
- Would like to see what it is like to be diagnosed with clinical depression (I do not have clinical depression but seeing as it is part of the author’s experience, I would be inclined to trust this representation)
- Enjoy reading about family and friendship
- Enjoy learning about different kinds of food (It’s a lot of name-dropping, but it can be a good starting point to find out more)
Click here to visit Adib Khorram’s website. (He seems like a funny guy! HAHA and judging by his socials, Darius’ geeky knowledge comes from him)
Click here for an interview with the Author
Get the book here: Darius the Great Is Not Okay
While researching for this post, I came across a lot of interesting things about Iran that I wanted to share and keep for my own memory next time. It seems like a very vibrant place that warrants a visit at least once in my lifetime. I’m interested to try out all their cuisines! I’m generally not a fan of mutton, which seems to be their go-to meat, but I’m willing to give it a go since it looks just like my favourite satay!
If you’ve read the book and were curious about the different kinds of food mentioned in the story, click here to watch a video showcasing some popular Iranian dishes. I’m personally interested in trying Dizi for the unique eating experience, Gheymeh for its cultural significance, Fesenjān because it was mentioned in the book and Shole Zard for dessert. I would also be interested to try Tahdig because it sounds similar to what my family tries to distribute evenly to prevent “favoritism” whenever we eat claypot rice. HAHAHA!
To elaborate on Gheymeh’s cultural significance, it is one of several traditional foods that is distributed as Nazri (free food) on the holy day of Ashura, which is observed by Shia Muslims, the majority religion in Iran. To find out more about Nazri, check out this link here.
In the book, Darioush is obsessed with tea, which is a big part of Iranian culture. Find out more here.
Click here for an introduction to Iran’s geography. The video is a little bit fast but I think it’s a good place to start if you’re looking for more information about Iran.
Next, I want to cover some questions that I had after finishing the book:
Q1. Is Persian a race?
Persians are an Iranian ethnic group which encompasses aspects such as their nationality, culture, language and ancestry. Most Persians speak Persian, or Farsi and share a common cultural system. (I think the answer to this question is quite complicated so I’ll leave it as that)
Q2. What is Zoroastrianism?
This is a very hard question to answer and would probably take years for me to actually know. The short form answer is that it is an ancient pre-Islamic religion that originated in Iran.
Q3. Who are the Bahá’í?
This is another tough question about religion. The Bahá’í faith branched out from the Shi’ite denomination of Islam. It is discriminated against in its own birthplace due to its deviation from one of the core beliefs in Islam. Khorram himself is of the Bahá’í faith.
Lastly, this is just a random thought that I had but I can sort of understand what Darioush felt when he heard the call to prayer, or the Azan. (Click here to listen to one.) It does sound incredibly peaceful, though I’ve only ever heard it over the internet. I think what I’m feeling is awe that there are so many people around the world who believe in the same thing and are working towards to same goal, in a way. It’s also moving to see people’s dedication and faith in whatever they believe in, even if I don’t believe in it myself.
Thanks for reading