Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram follows Darius Kellner, tea afficionado, fractional Persian, and dedicated Trekkie as he travels to Yazd with his family to meet his maternal grandparents for the first time. Darius doesn’t know what his relatives will think of his limited Farsi or his medication and he isn’t sure what he’ll think of Iran. No one is more shocked than Darius when exploring Yazd and learning about his namesake with his new friend Sohrab finally give Darius permission to be entirely himself. Darius the Great is Not Okay is the winner of YALSA’s 2019 Morris Award. Today I’m thrilled to have Adib Khorram here to answer some questions about his debut novel.
Congratulations on Darius the Great is Not Okay’s selection as a 2019 Morris Award finalist! Where were you when you heard? Who was the first person you told about the big news?
Adib Khorram (AK): Thank you very much indeed! I was doing the dishes when I got the call from my editor—and the first person I told was my agent. (I think the text of the email just read AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!)
Your debut novel follows Darius Kellner as he travels with his family to Iran for the first time. Along the way Darius discovers the beauty (and delicious food) from his mother’s Persian side of the family, learns a lot about himself, and starts to figure out where he fits into his family. What was the first thing you learned about Darius as a character? What part of his character (and his story) are you most excited to share with readers?
AK: I think the first thing I learned about Darius was his name. I really liked the idea of this kid who has this famous name to live up to and never quite feels like he’s succeeding. I don’t know that there’s one part of his character I’m most excited to share; it’s hard to separate all the parts that make Darius who he is.
Darius has two passions before his big trip: tea and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Are these interests that Darius shares with you? Do you have a favorite tea? What draws you (and Darius) to Star Trek: TNG?
AK: They are definitely interests of mine. As far as Star Trek, I have strong memories of watching that with my grandma growing up: it was a ritual for us, back in the days before Netflix. Every Thursday we’d watch the latest episode together. And I figured, if I have kids, I’ll probably make them watch Star Trek with me. The vision of the future it presents still resonates with me. So that came about fairly organically. And as far as tea…well, I was thinking about what jobs a teenager in Portland might have, and the tea felt like a perfect fit.
My favorite tea depends on my mood. But I’m really into Long Jing right now.
It’s hard to pick a favorite moment in your novel because Darius’s story covers so much. Did you have a favorite scene to write in this novel? Is there one you are excited for readers to discover?
AK: I really loved the scenes where Darius and Sohrab are just talking together on their little rooftop; those were extremely satisfying to write. But I’ve found different readers have connected more strongly with different scenes. The one I hear about the most is the scene between Darius and his dad at the end.
Reading about Darius’s trip to Iran and the locations he and his family visit feels a lot like being there thanks to your evocative prose. How did you decide which locations to feature on Darius’s trip? Which one was your favorite to write about?
AK: Well, the main setting—Yazd—came from my own family history. Part of the choices were narrative driven: what can this location reveal about the characters, about the relationships? Part of them were more practical: what do I have the most access to as far as research, articles, family photos, etc? But my favorite to write was probably the Towers of Silence. I feel like there are some really nice quiet moments there that worked out really well.
Thank you to Adib for taking the time to answer my questions about Darius the Great is Not Okay!
— Emma Carbone, currently reading The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty