Could You be a Darius in Your Life?

Everyone wants you here. We have a saying in Farsi. It translates ‘your place was empty.’ We say it when we miss somebody. I sniffed. “Your place was empty before. But this is your family. You belong here.”

Recently, I just finished a coming-of-age novel. When I bought it from a well-known-imported-book-online-store, I had zero expectation of it. From the name, it’s a cliché title for the genre and so does the synopsis. But by the time I wrote this writing this, I can’t put the story out of my mind. I keep thinking about it and cherish every word the author wrote. Darius the Great Is Not Okay is an amazing novel and I think it might be the best book that I read this year.

The story is about Darius, a half-white and half-Persian who lives in Portland. He feels a little bit of a misfit and doesn’t have a great-dad-son relationship. Darius often experiences bullying in his high school and doesn’t know what to do. One day, his family need to go to Iran to visit his dying grandfather. His new life in Iran changed Darius and the way he deals with his problems (which of course, this book gives an amazing character development).

One thing that I like about this book is the concept of male friendship in it. We all know friendship between boys is different from what the girls have. As boys, we don’t often touch our boy friends’ bodies or compliment the way they look. The topic of feelings and problems, also mental health seems pretty taboo for boys’ friendship. But Adib Khorram, the writer, says to that issue that, ‘hey, I can do better than this,’ and he did. There’s this character, named Sohrab, a boy next door that lives the next door of Darius’ grandfather’s house. He loves Darius as his greatest friend and often expresses his love through his body language. Sohrab would pat Darius on his shoulder and even hold Darius’ hand to guide him around this city. He also defended Darius when his classmates bullied Darius’s genital. Sohrab is a plan, or a tool if you want to call it like that, for Khorram to says that boys’ friendship can be more than what we have in our society right now. Boys can be full of feelings and complement each other as freely as they want without a guilt-tripping feeling from the society that tries to oppress them, or even shame their sexuality.

Darius is also having a few problems with his dad. He doesn’t know how to ‘talk’ with him and his dad also treats him differently than his sister, or that’s how Darius sees it. Darius believes that he couldn’t ever satisfy his father and he seldom hear an appreciation or an ‘acceptance’ of how he looks. The only father-son time that he could cherish is their Star Trek movie night, and later his sister joined their father-son time, changing it to father-children time, and leaving Darius feelings useless.

Even though later things become clear, and we know the reasons why. I feel Darius is genuinely a relatable character for some of us. Some of us are afraid to act up and have zero ideas on what to do when we get bullied. Us who always getting critics on what we eat or how our body and hair look like. Something that cannot be changed because we are born like this. Darius feels like a love letter from Khorram to tell us that we are not alone and someday in the future, things can get better, that we will find our Sohrab, and we can see the world from a different point of view.

Darius the Great Is Not Okay is a marvelous novel that can make you cry, laugh, and warm your heart. Reading the story of Darius is like drinking a hot cup of tea in summer where all of your friends are going back to their hometown. It’s only you, this book, and one cup of tea. I can go on and on about how great this book is, but I guess the theme of friendship and father-son issue is the most important thing that I want to write. As my love letter to my HIMSI’s reader out there who experience the same problems.

Editor: Nadia Salsabila & Pieter Bagaskara Astadiningrat


  • Khorram, A. (2018). Darius the great is not okay. Penguin.
Handiko Wijaya