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The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas

The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas

by Anand Giridharadas

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Winner of the 2015 NYPL Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism.
"Remarkable…a richly detailed, affecting account…Giridharadas seeks less to uplift than illuminate…Which of these men is the '"true American'" of the title? That there is no simple answer to that question is Giridharadas's finest accomplishment." —Ayad


Winner of the 2015 NYPL Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism.
"Remarkable…a richly detailed, affecting account…Giridharadas seeks less to uplift than illuminate…Which of these men is the '"true American'" of the title? That there is no simple answer to that question is Giridharadas's finest accomplishment." —Ayad Akhtar, New York Times Book ReviewThe True American tells the story of Raisuddin Bhuiyan, a Bangladesh Air Force officer who dreams of immigrating to America and working in technology. But days after 9/11, an avowed "American terrorist" named Mark Stroman, seeking revenge, walks into the Dallas minimart where Bhuiyan has found temporary work and shoots him, maiming and nearly killing him. Two other victims, at other gas stations, aren’t so lucky, dying at once.
The True American traces the making of these two men, Stroman and Bhuiyan, and of their fateful encounter. It follows them as they rebuild shattered lives—one striving on Death Row to become a better man, the other to heal and pull himself up from the lowest rung on the ladder of an unfamiliar country.Ten years after the shooting, an Islamic pilgrimage seeds in Bhuiyan a strange idea: if he is ever to be whole, he must reenter Stroman's life. He longs to confront Stroman and speak to him face to face about the attack that changed their lives. Bhuiyan publicly forgives Stroman, in the name of his religion and its notion of mercy. Then he wages a legal and public-relations campaign, against the State of Texas and Governor Rick Perry, to have his attacker spared from the death penalty.Ranging from Texas's juvenile justice system to the swirling crowd of pilgrims at the Hajj in Mecca; from a biker bar to an immigrant mosque in Dallas; from young military cadets in Bangladesh to elite paratroopers in Israel; from a wealthy household of chicken importers in Karachi, Pakistan, to the sober residences of Brownwood, Texas, The True American is a rich, colorful, profoundly moving exploration of the American dream in its many dimensions. Ultimately it tells a story about our love-hate relationship with immigrants, about the encounter of Islam and the West, about how—or whether—we choose what we become.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Ayad Akhtar
…a richly detailed, affecting account of two men bound, as it turned out, by more than just an act of violence…Bhuiyan, Stroman. Extremes along the continuum of American identity, each an example with much to tell us about who we are. The one, an immigrant who, by dint of pluck and abilities, comes to embody some of the best of our nation's values, as well as a trace of that unseemly, self-promoting daemon so central to the American self. The other, born and raised in Texas, defined by the narrow creed of his love for motorcycles and guns and naked women, reveals the costs of a nation beholden to ruthless competition and relentless individualism, a society that winnows out the less capable, the more damaged, and where festering rage seeks a violent discharge. Which of these men is the "true American" of the title? That there is no simple answer to that question is Giridharadas's finest accomplishment.
Publishers Weekly
★ 02/10/2014
Competing visions of the American Dream clash in this rich account of a hate crime and its unlikely reverberations. New York Times columnist Giridharadas (India Calling) follows the encounter between Mark Stroman, a racist ex-con in Dallas who went on a killing spree targeting men he wrongly thought were Arabs after 9/11, and Raisuddin Bhuiyan, a Bangladeshi-born convenience-store clerk who was shot by Stroman but survived; Raisuddin later campaigned to spare Stroman the death penalty. Raisuddin’s initiative, inspired by his pilgrimage to Mecca, makes for an affecting story of forgiveness and redemption, but the book’s heart is the author’s penetrating portraits of the two men: Stroman’s violent, bigoted patriotism is a tribal affiliation that consoles the pain of his chaotic upbringing and sense of dispossessed white masculinity, yet it’s Bhuiyan, the immigrant striving to reinvent himself, who emerges as the more iconic “true American.” Giridharadas’s evocative reportage captures the starkly contrasting, but complementary struggles of these men with sympathy and insight, setting them in a Texas landscape of strip malls and gas stations that is at once a moonscape of social anomie and a welcoming blank slate for a newcomer seeking to assimilate. The result is a classic story of arrival with a fresh and absorbing twist. (May)
Catherine Hollis - BookPage
“A compelling narrative of crime, forgiveness and redemption.”
David Brooks
“A truly fine book.”
Ayad Akhtar - New York Times Book Review
“Remarkable… a richly detailed, affecting account… Giridharadas seeks less to uplift than illuminate.”
“Eloquent… From murder to execution, forgiveness, personal responsibility, governmental intervention and more, there are enough dichotomies here to fuel heated book-club discussions for years.”
Kate Tuttle - Boston Globe
“Thoroughly compelling… masterful.”
David Wecht - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“A good read, rich in detail and devoid of cant and polemic… The book doesn't tell us what to think. It provokes us to think. It leads us to ponder the ‘American Dream,’ the ways that people live, the immigrant experience and our own assumptions. It's a story worth spending some time with.”
Amy Kamp - Austin Chronicle
“The characters are too fascinating to miss.”
Padma Viswanathan - Rumpus
“An intellectually agile and incessantly compelling portrait of post-9/11 America—or what we are and of what we might become.”
Library Journal
The events of 9/11 and the subsequent war against terrorism have led many to try to answer the question: What does it mean to be an American? Giridharadas (New York Times columnist; India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation's Remaking) offers one answer by telling the stories of Mark Stroman, a self-described "American terrorist" in Texas and Bangladesh immigrant Raisuddin Bhuiyan, who survived one of Stroman's attacks. Bhuiyan came to the United States to fulfill the American dream, only to have his plans delayed when Stroman, a man so troubled by the 9/11 attacks that he believed he was a soldier fighting against those he perceived as anti-American, walked into Bhuiyan's store and shot him in the face. Not only did the victim survive the attack, he used the experience to become a crusader against the death penalty, and even fought to prevent Stroman's execution. VERDICT Giridharadas does an excellent job of weaving the subjects' individual and shared stories into a fascinating and compelling narrative that forces the reader to decide for themselves who is indeed the True American. Anyone seeking a poignant and nuanced look at the meeting of modern America and the Muslim world should read this book.—Michael C. Miller, Austin P.L. & Austin History Ctr., TX
Kirkus Reviews
Well-crafted account of an act of post-9/11 vigilante violence and its long reverberations for its survivors. New York Times columnist Giridharadas (India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation's Remaking, 2011) meticulously reconstructs two lives that collided in horrific fashion. In the charged, angry days after 9/11, self-styled "Arab Slayer" Mark Stroman murdered two immigrants in Texas, while a third man survived being shot in the head during Stroman's spree: Raisuddin Bhuiyan, a Bangladesh Air Force veteran, was working at a Dallas-area convenience store as he established himself in America. Stroman was quickly apprehended and sentenced to death; Bhuiyan not only recovered from this harrowing hate crime, but thrived, building a career in IT management. Following a pilgrimage to Mecca with his beloved mother, Bhuiyan decided to channel his sense of good fortune into a social statement, pursuing a late-stage effort to block Stroman's execution and reach out to his children. Although Stroman's sentence was ultimately carried out, Bhuiyan's determination to break what he saw as a never-ending cycle of violence between cultures through an act of forgiveness caused a groundswell of media attention and admiration, even in conservative Texas. Giridharadas writes in a maximalist, descriptive style that allows him to hew close to both Bhuiyan's open-heartedness and Stroman's racialized resentment, which he appeared to relinquish in his waning days on death row, moved by the interest of Bhuiyan and others. In building a close, empathetic portrait of the murderer, which includes his troubled extended family, Giridharadas convincingly argues that the rage and violence embraced by Americans like Stroman often results from constricted heartland social environments, where hard drugs (and subsequent criminal records) are easier to come by than good blue-collar jobs and racial tribalism reigns. Bhuiyan and the author seemingly concur that Stroman's legacy will be the similarly constricted lives of his children. A compelling, nuanced look at the shifting, volatile meaning of American identity in the post-9/11 era.
Walter Isaacson
“An enthralling real-life tale of murder and forgiveness…enthralling.”
Henry Louis Gates Jr.
“Exhilarating and deeply affecting, Giridharadas’s book is not only a captivating narrative; it reminds us of the immigrant’s journey at the heart of the American story and how, in the wake of violent tragedy, one new to our country can help us to see through to the best in ourselves, even when the law requires far less.”
Anne-Marie Slaughter
“Simply impossible to put down. Just when we thought that we had read everything we could possibly absorb about 9/11, The True American finds a new and compelling perspective, one that explores two sharply opposed dimensions of the American experience in a style that neither celebrates nor condemns. We readers become the jury, weighing what it means to be a true American today.”
Teju Cole
“An unforgettable story about two men caught in the jaws of history. In this compassionate, tenacious, and deeply intelligent book, Giridharadas casts brilliant new illumination on what we mean by ‘American.’”
Eboo Patel - Washington Post
“Gives you new eyes on your nation, makes you wonder about both the recent South Asian immigrant behind the counter at the food mart and the tattooed white man behind you in line. It reminds you that there are some Americas where mercy flows freely, and other Americas where it has turned to ice.”
Laura Miller - Salon
“Moving and indelible… manifestly inspirational… a finely textured portrait of lower-class despair.”
Stephen Harrington - Wall Street Journal
“The suspense in this book runs deeper than whether Stroman will live or die. Mr. Giridharadas is most interested in examining the viability of the American dream… an enterprising and clear-eyed reporter.”
Michael E. Young - Dallas Morning News
“A riveting tale, dense with detail, from Giridharadas’ unflinching descriptions of the struggling neighborhoods on the eastern edge of Dallas, to Stroman’s troubled and brutal childhood, to the ebullient optimism of these new Americans determined to create better lives.”

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Anand Giridharadas writes the Admit One column for the New York Times's arts pages and the Currents column for its global edition. He is the author of India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of A Nation's Remaking. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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