You always wanted to make your mark. There'd be no footstep-following in your life.

You'd carve your own path, select your own adventures, seize the opportunities that appealed to you, and blaze trails for the sake of others' journeys. You'd take the best of those you knew and loved, and you'd go your own way. As in the new memoir, "A Tale of Two Omars" by Omar Sharif, Jr., you'll also make your own mistakes.

Born into a family that had ties on several continents, Omar Sharif, Jr. never had to worry about money or a place to live. On one side of the family — his maternal side — the Holocaust left a mark on his mother's parents, who'd barely escaped the concentration camps. On the other side, Sharif's paternal grandparents were both famous and beloved actors with roots in Egypt. Sharif was close with his entire family, but particularly with his grandfather, Omar Sharif.

Sharif recalls many a dinner party, listening, while his grandfather held court at dinner, laughing and telling stories. Everyone, everything seemed so elegant and refined and those meals showed Sharif a life that he could have if he wanted it. As time passed, the lessons he received were paid back: he was one of the few allowed to help his grandfather as Alzheimer's took hold at the end of the great actor's life.

But this is not a story of a famous actor or a grandfather. It's the story of a man who's not just half-Jewish and Egyptian. He's also gay, a part of himself that Sharif kept hidden until well into adulthood, although he says that other children must've sensed it when he was young. It was a part of himself that he feared revealing to his father. It helped him land a dream job that ultimately became a nightmare.

The title of this book — "A Tale of Two Omars" — is a bit of a misnomer. Judging by what author Omar Sharif Jr. writes here, there are several Omars: the activist; a globe-hopper; a son and grandson; a writer; and a grandfather whose life was impactful but who has a surprisingly small footprint in this book.

This is not to say that readers will like them all.

Indeed, parts of this book may seem as though you've read them before: bullied as a child, fear of coming out, the college revelation, the mismatched first love. Those ubiquitous bits are here, but they pale in comparison to Sharif's ultra-urbane life and the hair-raising, terrifying account of getting and getting out of what seemed like the ultimate job with a wealthy sheik, a job that slowly grew dangerous. That story-within-a-story is so edgy, so mouth-drying, that you'll throw away the thriller you bought last week.

Then there's the part about his life-threatening activism, a tale that starts and ends this book.

And so beware at the unevenness of this memoir, but understand that the tedium doesn't linger. Skip past the ho-humness of "A Tale of Two Omars" and the rest is remarkable.


"A Tale of Two Omars" by Omar Sharif Jr.

c.2021, Counterpoint Press $26 / higher in Canada 224 pages


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