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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
Being Authentic by Morhaf Al Achkar is the author's memoir that spans from childhood and early adulthood in Syria to his time in the United States after being granted a student visa in 2006. Al Achkar begins with a lengthy introduction to his family life and the foundational structure of a conservative, religious upbringing in a family that would be considered incredibly large by today's standards. His parents had a loving marriage and although he describes the usual growing pains and frustrations of a boy coming into his own, and teenage years that are as confusing as they are for most young men, he felt supported and cared for. Still, he questioned the boundaries placed by a faith his parents devoutly adhered to and that he, somewhat by default, was bound to as well. When tragedy strikes and his home country begins to constrict virtually every aspect of Al Achtar's life, he makes the decision to leave Syria. In the United States, he flourishes in the medical field and takes part in the types of activism that his country of birth made impossible. But when the tables turn and it is Al Achtar in the role of a patient with a stage four lung cancer diagnosis, the reassessment of how to live his life is brought to the forefront once more.
Going into Morhaf Al Achkar's autobiography Being Authentic, it was clear that the author's legacy was something he genuinely hoped to preserve. It takes courage to acknowledge that one does not know how long they have left and that they fear being forgotten. If there is one thing that Al Achktar utilizes to confirm his quest for authentic existence, his profound honesty is proof enough that the intent is pure. I also grew up in a conservative Muslim country and immigrated as a student and an athlete to England around the same age Al Achkar arrived in the United States. I saw a lot of similarities in the upbringing that I could connect with, even turning to my wife to read passages that deeply conveyed feelings I knew of myself. As for the memoir itself, I found Al Achkar's internal conflict, which was frequently in conflict with the moral construct of his family, to be the most interesting. At one point he turns away from love because he is not old or stable enough to marry and dating is absolutely out of the question. His diagnosis is absolutely crushing to read, but only because of the journey conveyed in the lead-up. At this juncture, I felt I knew the author and so the turn felt personal. I believe that this book does what it sets out to do and have no doubt that the author's family will treasure it for many generations to come, wherever they are in this world.