Darius Kellner has never really fit in into Chapel Hill High-School, not just because he is half-Persian but also because of his depression which makes it hard for him to make friends. When is grandfather gets seriously ill, his whole family is flying to Yazd for the first time: his father, whom he considers an “Übermensch” because he is perfect in every respect, his beloved mother and his 8-year-old sister Laleh. Even though Iran is much less different from his home than expected, Darius, or Darioush as he is called there, makes masses of new experiences. He finds a good friend in Sohrab, plays football successfully and with fun, he tries out great Persian food and the family relationships somehow shift and allow him another look at how things are between himself and the rest of his family. When he returns, he is not the Darius he was before anymore, a bit of Darioush the Great has come with him to the US and he accepts that at times it is ok just not to be okay.
Adib Khoram’s novel presents a very different perspective on many things we know from novels. First of all, it is not an immigrant who comes to the US and has to adjust, but vice versa, an American boy, who even though he has a Persian mother is not speaking any Farsi, who discovers a country and its people of the Middle East. Khoram doesn’t play on clichés here, luckily, Darius does not come with too many ideas about his mother’s native country and enters it rather open-mindedly. Additionally, Darius is at the age where he could have his first girl-friend, but it is not a girl he meets and falls for, but a boy with whom he makes friends. And thirdly, the novel does not present a happy-end where everything is cured and everyone is fine. Darius still suffers from depression and has to fight for every little step in his life. Just travelling to Iran and back does not change everything.
I really enjoyed reading to book. Most of all because it gave a lot of interesting insight in the life in Iran, but also because it doesn’t pretend that life is easy and that everything can be fixed. None of the characters is perfect, they all make mistakes and they all feel awkward at times. In this respect, it is very authentic and convincing. I think it is great for teenagers who struggle with fitting in since the main message for me was that we all at times feel like outsiders and it is absolutely ok, not to fit in and to feel sad at times.
It is by coincidence that the Brazilian musician and author learns that his dad fathered a boy when he lived in Germany. Their house has always been full of books, his father a passionate historian and writer, horded them and, at times, forgot letters and other things in them. It is such a letter that Chico finds which indicates that his father had an affair with a certain Anne Ernst when he lived in Berlin as a journalist around 1930. Later, when the Nazi regime took over, he tried to bring his son to Brazil. Since father and son hardly talk to each other, it is not an option for Chico to ask him about the unknown half-brother, thus, Chico starts his research on his own.
Even though the book is classified as fiction, it is based on Chico Buarque’s life and the facts he reports about his father and German brother are actually true. Sérgio Buarque de Holanda spent some time in Berlin where Sergio Günther was born who later became a well-known artist in the German Democratic Republic. Unfortunately, the brothers never had the chance to meet.
I really appreciate Buarque’s tone of narration, especially at the beginning, the light-heartedness with which the young men move around town is well transferred into the language the author uses. Interesting to observe are the family structures. Even though the father’s main occupation is closely linked to language in all shapes and forms, the family members hardly find a way to communicate with each other and the most important things remain unsaid. A third aspect which struck me was the part in the novel which gives insight in the time of the military regime. Hardly do I know anything about the country’s history, therefore those glimpses are most fascinating.
Sometimes life itself invents the best stories. Even though some of it is fictional, I found Chico Buarque’s story about his mysterious brother most intriguing and a perfect example of how complicated families and our lives can be.
With his eleventh birthday approaching, Zac decides that it is time to actively look for his father. He has never met him because his father was not interested in him and left his mom before he was born. His friend Teagan is going to help him with his search and they are quite determined even though they have to keep their mission secret since in Zac’s family, it is forbidden to ever mention his father because of what he had done. But it’s not only the Dad-finding-mission that keeps Zac occupied, for months now he has been bullied due to his weight and now the school has written a letter to his mother. Life is not easy when you are ten years old. Especially when there are adults around you with secrets they want to keep.
I really loved this book even though in its story, there is not much that is positive after all. Zac’s life is all but easy: his mother Juliet is fighting, but as a single parent with a low income, they cannot afford any fancy pastime activities and the lack of a partner doesn’t make things easier. Both find relief in food which isn’t helpful after all, so another war that has to be fought. However, the love they show for each other is genuine and the only actual ray of hope.
The story is told alternatively from Zac’s, Juliet’s and Mick’s point of view – this is a bit astonishing as in the beginning you cannot really figure out why Juliet’s father Mick is that important while his wife’s perspective isn’t given. Yet, the secrets the adults have kept from Zac for more than ten years are slowly unfolded and the more you hear from Mick, the more obvious his role becomes.
Katy Regan did a great job in portraying what life in school can be for outsiders like Zac and his friend Teagan. It is hard to say, but all the bullying is just too authentic. And she also shows what this does to the kids – luckily, Zac has found a friend he can confide in. It would be a lot harder if he was on his own. The author also found the perfect voice for Zac, his diary entries sound like the one’s of a 10-year-old, a clever one but nevertheless a child.
Even though the lives of the characters are not too joyful, the novel is often full of humour and definitively of love – a classic bitter-sweet story that hits the heart.