A Tale of Two Omars by Omar Sharif

A Memoir of Family, Revolution, and Coming Out During the Arab Spring

"The first time I walked home from school with suicidal thoughts, I’d already written my eulogy in my head."


The grandson of Hollywood royalty on his father’s side and Holocaust survivors on his mother’s, Omar Sharif Jr. learned early on how to move between worlds, from the Montreal suburbs to the glamorous orbit of his grandparents’ Cairo. His famous name always protected him wherever he went. When, in the wake of the Arab Spring, he made the difficult decision to come out in the pages of The Advocate, he knew his life would forever change. What he didn’t expect was the backlash that followed.

From bullying, to illness, attempted suicide, becoming a victim of sex trafficking, death threats by the thousands, revolution and never being able to return to a country he once called home, Omar Sharif Jr. has overcome more challenges than one might imagine. Drawing on the lessons he learned from both sides of his family, A Tale of Two Omars charts the course of an iconoclastic life, revealing in the process the struggles and successes that attend a public journey of self-acceptance and a life dedicated in service to others.

What I thought

The prologue opens with a powerful statement from Omar's coming out article in The Advocate

“I write this article in fear. Fear for my country, fear for my family, and fear for myself. My parents will be shocked to read it, surely preferring I stay in the shadows and keep silent, at least for the time being. But I can’t.”  He continues, “I am Egyptian, I am half Jewish, and I am gay.”

I wasn't aware of who Omar Sharif Jr. was before picking up this book, but I felt compelled to read it for a number of reasons. Mostly because of how deeply relatable I knew it would be. Like Omar, I've been forced to stay in the closet for fear of the consequences and backlash of society. I've also had to falsify my relationships with females in order to gain respect from others. And mostly, I've had to hide an entire part of myself that's led to self-hatred and suicidal ideation and attempts. 

Not being able to be myself, and not being accepted for being myself when I finally did come out, led to years of bullying, and an eating disorder that's still controlling my life eighteen years later. 

And so, I saw a part of myself within Omar Sharif's words and in his story. I felt completely drawn in within just a few pages, and found it extremely difficult to put this one down, reading the entire book in just two sittings. 

Courtesy of Omar's Instagram

The book starts out with Omar sharing intimate details of his time with his Grandfather, famous actor Omar Sharif. Hearing him talk of his grandfather was extremely heartwarming, since I shared a deep relationship with my own grandfather as well. “When I came out, it was surprising that my sexual orientation never became a discussion with Grandfather. He treated me as if nothing had changed in our relationship, and he loved me the same way,” continuing, “I was proud of my grandfather.” 

He eventually lost his grandfather to Alzheimer's, after many years of it becoming progressively worse. An unfortunate symptom of that disease is that its sufferers are prone to outbursts of rage. Regardless of how bad this got, Omar states, “He was our family, and we wanted to take care of him, just as he had cared for us.” 

There's a quiet kind of sadness conveyed when Omar loses his grandfather, without using many words its a sadness that holds such power and shows truly how devastated he is, as though his grandfather was the only one who showed him acceptance without question. He was unable to attend the funeral for fear of facing imprisonment for his LGBTQ advocacy work over the previous three years.

What follows in the book is an incredible amount of loss and devastation. Losing his grandparents, watching his mother battle cancer, experiencing sexual assault on more than one occasion, and most of all, being banished from his home country. He sought freedom in being an openly gay man, and was met with the opposite. 

“People are quick to say be yourself, as if it’s that easy to do. Be proud of who you are, they say, as if the world is ready for that. Tell the truth — but when I did, after years of hiding in fear, I was banished from my home in Egypt — forced into exile for being myself.”

Omar Sharif Jr. laid himself completely bare in this memoir, opening up entirely. He shares details of his upbringing, his relationship with his parents, the most difficult times in his life, and of his advocacy work for LGBTQ rights. While it's obvious from the book that Omar comes from enormous wealth, and it can be quite overstated at times with talk of Hollywood, private nannies, and the world's most exclusive restaurants, I still felt I could relate to his story in a more down to earth manner. 

His prose is vividly descriptive, taking the reader to wherever he is at the particular moments he discusses in the book. He does so with such accuracy at times that I feel as though I could be seated next to him, even in the most tragic of situations. While it might seem from the outside that he lives a life of luxury with access to all the things in the world, it seems it couldn't be further from the truth. I believe what Omar seeks most, is acceptance. 

Courtesy of Omar's Instagram

I found parts of the book difficult to read for a few reasons. Mostly because I couldn't imagine what it was like for Omar to go through what he did, which you'll read about in the book. I was shocked at some points, my heart dropping to the pit of my stomach. But despite it all, he seemed to come out stronger, at least on the outside. 

I also found it hard to imagine what life in Egypt as an LGBTQ individual must be like. According to Human Rights Watch, 'The Egyptian government is refusing to recognize the existence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, flouting its responsibility to protect the rights of everyone.' HRW continues to state that 'Egyptian police and National Security Agency officers arbitrarily arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and detain them in inhuman conditions, systematically subject them to ill-treatment including torture, and often incite fellow inmates to abuse them.'

I appreciated reading about the work Omar is doing when it comes to advocating for the rights of others, despite not initially being accepted by the LGBTQ community. He was facing death threats from Egypt then told by the queer and activist communities, “He’s just privileged, what could he know about struggle or sacrifice?” Reading this memoir, I was able to see that despite his privilege, he has suffered just as much as anyone who identifies as LGBTQ and struggles to come out. 

Eventually he was accepted, and even became an advocate for GLAAD. These days, he states, "I no longer consider myself an activist. Many of the actions I see activists taking these days seem to be motivated by polarizing, all-or-nothing confrontations." 

Despite all of this, I believe he has done what he can for LGBTQ rights in Egypt, and is still fighting for his own freedom and the freedom of others. This memoir truly broke my heart, but also inspired me greatly. It's my hope that one day things will change in countries where people are forced to hide in the closet, where they seek nothing but freedom and the right to be who they are. 

This is an important read, and one I highly recommend. 

Omar Sharif Jr.
is an Egyptian-Canadian actor and model who currently lives in the United States. He is the grandson of Omar Sharif, the actor. He is widely considered to be the first openly gay person in the Arab world.

A Tale of Two Omars is available for pre-order (hitting shelves October 5th) at Indigo and on Kobo. Check GoodReads for additional retailers. 

Thank you Counterpoint Press and NetGalley for this advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review. 

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