Book review: Being authentic is the way out of this confused situation
By Clement Amolo
| June 29th 2020
Author: Morhaf Al Achkar
Title: Being Authentic
Reviewer: Clement Amolo
This is a race against time...
At a time like this, you need to read a book that can sober
you up and bring you back to yourself. That's what this book did to me.
With the world's over 7 billion humans angling for space and
attention, at times, it is not easy to decide whom to lend an ear. The modern
mouthpiece, which is the social media, is so dominated by the celebrities and
politicians that other low-key but critical voices may shout themselves hoarse
but still get no earpiece. Morhaf Al Achkar is one of those low-keys. When I
began to read his book, I was somewhat disinterested and out of touch. As I
realized later, this is one book you should not judge by its cover. The cover
design did little in terms of motivating me to pick this gem of a book.
Morhaf Al Achkar is an accomplished physician with an M.D.
and Ph.D. after his name. That's remarkable, considering he is only 37 years
old and an immigrant from troubled Syria.
However, that's not all — he also has stage 4 cancer. With
everything else held constant, he can comfortably live for a couple of years.
Then there is COVID-19 virus lurking on the door-handles, chair arm-rests,
tables, computer mouse, and keyboard buttons. Cancer has already considerably
weakened his immune system, and an opportunistic disease like COVID-19 may find
it easier to penetrate the remaining barriers.
But this double-vulnerable doctor is not sitting idly,
resigned to his fate, waiting for the ripper. He has an important message that
he is determined to convey, and he presses on, typing, typing...and hammering
it in with urgency because time is not on his side.
The book revolves around cancer and the
still-on-the-front-page coronavirus epidemic, but it is more than that.
First things first, though. The story properly begins in
Aleppo, Syria. From there, it unexpectedly retreats to the United States, and
from there, it briefly spreads its wings across other countries and eventually
holds on to the U.S.
The philosophical introduction is outright gloomy—nothing to
smile about. However, the moment you step past the opening, it is suddenly
sunlight. Achkar, filled with nostalgia, talks about his mother, who is
concerned about her kids' welfare to a fault — she gets over-reactive if she
feels specific actions or inactions are compromising their future.
She is also genuinely kind and always emphasizes the value
of education. Her passion for education lays the foundation for who Morhaf
eventually becomes in life. Politics and any other endeavor should come after
education, she correctly insisted.
On the other hand, the equally well-meaning father taught
the author to be courageous. You will be amazed to learn how he taught his son
to swim or ride a bicycle. To thrive under the totalitarian, hawk-eyed,
insecure, corrupt, and brutal Baath Party regime, the father (and the family at
large) adopted the see-no-evil-hear-no-evil stance. Later in life, Achkar
challenged this family policy.
I could not stop smiling as I read along, seeing myself in
some of Morhaf's childhood anecdotes. He cherished those sweet moments he spent
with his privileged family, and that's why now, as the clock ticks, he finds
solace in them.
He must set the record straight now. By telling his own
story, he rightly believes that he is making his fair contribution to our
planet's well-being. Morhaf strongly believes in humanity. Perhaps too much. He
values and is positive about life and the future of mankind (or humankind if I
should be gender-sensitive).
Morhaf Al Achkar is not just addressing the audience. He is
talking to his soul as well. There are intense reflections towards the end.
Rarely does a man open his heart so widely and invite people in.
When you talk to yourself, the conversation must, as a
necessity, be authentic. That's the essence of soul-searching. In this
no-holds-barred engagement, expect apologies and no apologies. As he points
figures at president Assad, he also owns up to his little shortcomings, like
when he stole a neighbor's pomegranates or selfishly used his family's
privileged name to gain public bakery access.
I was held spellbound as he explained in clear, simple terms
why he did or didn't do this or that and so should be exonerated. These
humbling confessions are impressive.
He has beautifully focused on his story and maintained
brevity, skipping the non-essentials. But not at the expense of his position on
some of the burning issues in the USA that directly or indirectly impact his
inner peace and outward joy. One such issue is racial discrimination and the
political pronouncements that determine its direction. Far from glossing over
it like some compromised writer with eyes only on the book sales, he has
exhaustively tackled it.
I think it would have been absurd if a Syrian immigrant in
the USA gave racial discrimination a wide berth in a book that proclaims
authenticity in every other couple of pages. To balance the scales, he has not
left out the current social and political situation in Syria. After all, he is
primarily a victim of the wrong political decisions or oppression in Syria.
Other hot, touch-me-with-a-long-spoon matters he has
grappled with are the QLGBT, abortion, and religion or God in his life.
I don't (and maybe you won't ) agree with him on some of
these issues, but I must admit he is an open-minded thinker who also happens to
be a decent, disciplined, well-meaning, respectable human being. Within a short
period he accomplished, through sheer hard work and determination, what many
people under similar situations would not.
His well-balanced, respectful opinions and achievements
debunk before you face the stereotypical notion that people from certain
countries are only good at ranting, threatening, or hurting others.
You will fall in love with the writer, not because of his
noble academic achievements, but because he has put humanity first. Towards the
probable premature end of his life, he wants to bequeath us his valuable
hindsight because he believes we can improve. I seem to have lost faith in the
human race. We only improve other things like machines, not our hearts. Let us
read a book like this one if we are still serious about improving.
I also believe that
when Achkar dies, it shouldn't be like the fall of a tree in the forest that
catches no attention. The seven billion people on earth, if it were possible,
should stop to observe a minute or two of silence.
Merkel, Macron meet as Germany takes on high-stakes EU presidencyIn November, focus will be on whether US President Donald Trump, whose relationship with Merkel has been frosty at best, manages to hold on to his
Opening Ceremony: Kenya takes her pride of place as 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games beginTeam Kenya Paralympics strolled majestically into the Tokyo Olympic Stadium led by captain Rodgers Kiprop and Powerlifter Hellen Wawira for the Openin
Lamu Senator in gun drama, woman hurt
- Lawyers speak on Sonko’s chance after Kananu ruling
- ‘Forces of doom’ keen to scuttle our plans, say Kalonzo and Mudavadi
By Oscar Obonyo
- Beware! Curfew or no curfew
- Revealed: Counties with highest varsity students
- DP Ruto asks Museveni to release Kenyan lorries