Morhaf Al Achkar, MD, Ph.D., is a Syrian-American author who just released his memoir – Being Authentic. At the age of thirty-seven, he has stage 4 lung cancer.
Written in the span of 14 days, in a tremendous creative surge, this powerful and beautifully written book is a clear-eyed account of what living in urgency taught Morhaf. He describes the tangle of his feelings, he reflects on his life, and he remembers the lives and deaths of others whose lives had touched his. He hopes to live to give to others.
Being Authentic is a breathtaking book about vulnerability and strength, courage and humility, anger, and acceptance. It is a deeply-affecting meditation on confronting death, but it is also a humorous and wise tribute to life. There’s a real beauty and simplicity in this short but powerful book.
Being a writer myself, I am tempted to start writing my own memoir. That’s the power of encouragement. Morhaf offered me a fair dose of that.
I can relate to several of Morhaf’s experiences and that’s probably why I really loved this book. An American immigrant myself, I understand first-hand what it means to be subtly facing some harsh realities in a “free country”. In the author’s case, however, probably not as subtle.
The sitting president, famous for his prejudice against immigrants, made do with his promise – he banned Muslims from entering the country. In response, Morhaf wrote a powerful letter to Trump in a Huffington post. He ended his letter announcing, “Mr. Trump, you have become my cancer, and I will only live if you shrink down into a normal person.”
In my opinion though, this book is not one of those that you read in one gulp. It requires reading and rereading. Well, this is what I’m doing now.
Can a book about Dying be considered beautiful? If I had any doubts about that, Morhaf knocked them out. The memoir begins with the simple facts that on the eve of Thanksgiving 2016, he received a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer. Each part of this book has a few chapters. The flow of words kept me yearning to know more!
The first part focuses on his close family life and background. There are ups and downs and probably things that all of our imperfect lives are affected by. His growing awareness of various aspects of life is exposed.
The second part talks about his sojourn into adulthood. School, struggles, and ultimately success! Beauty, love, fear, and dreams are in all our lives in some ways. Morhaf’s writing on these was both simple and moving. That said, the whole book exudes calmness to me.
With its beautiful language, unexpectedly refined metaphors, and comparisons, you get aesthetic pleasure from its contents. In addition, with the books’ contents, the author raises vital questions: How to talk about those in whose lives there was nothing outstanding and heroic? How to talk about those with whom you were not familiar and remember only fragments of?
In this book, Morhaf finds helpers — words!
These words are probably the only thing that remains after us. The rest is all ephemeral — even personal memories.
If you’re someone who contemplates deeper existential questions about life and authenticity, you may find this book a thoughtful and emotional read,
I recommend it.