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The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas Hardcover – May 5, 2014
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Journalist Giridharadas’ eloquent, bordering-on-academic examination of the 2001 xenophobic murders and attempted murder by self-described Dallas biker Mark Stroman of people he perceived as Muslims bears stark witness to ideological weaknesses woven throughout twentieth-century American culture. He closely follows events leading up to and following Stroman’s rage-fueled killing spree that took place on the heels of the 9/11 attacks, including his trial, conviction, and sentencing. This rampage left two dead and Raisuddin (Rais) Bhuiyan critically injured.Giridharadas alternates between the two men’s stories, including their personal histories, interviews with families and friends, and courtroom coverage. But it is by letting convicted murderer Stroman and the others speak for themselves via extensive quotes that the inconsistencies and cognitive dissonances of ideological thinking become achingly clear. The primary incongruity, alluded to in the oxymoronic subtitle, is Bhuiyan’s determined, if failed, attempt to rescue Stroman from the death penalty. From murder to execution, forgiveness, personal responsibility, governmental intervention and more, there are enough dichotomies here to fuel heated book-club discussions for years. --Donna Chavez
“Remarkable… a richly detailed, affecting account… Giridharadas seeks less to uplift than illuminate.” (Ayad Akhtar - New York Times Book Review)
“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.” (Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University)
“Competing visions of the American Dream clash in this rich account of a hate crime and its unlikely reverberations….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.” (Publishers Weekly (Starred Review))
“Anand Giridharadas has written a book that is 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.” (Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO of the New America Foundation)
“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.’” (Teju Cole, author of Open City)
“Meticulously reconstructs two lives that collided in horrific fashion… A compelling, nuanced look at the shifting, volatile meaning of American identity In the post-9/11 era.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“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.” (Booklist)
“Moving and indelible… manifestly inspirational… a finely textured portrait of lower-class despair.” (Laura Miller - Salon)
“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.” (Stephen Harrington - Wall Street Journal)
“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.” (Michael E. Young - Dallas Morning News)
“A compelling narrative of crime, forgiveness and redemption.” (Catherine Hollis - BookPage)
“A truly fine book.” (David Brooks)
“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.” (Eboo Patel - Washington Post)
“Thoroughly compelling… masterful.” (Kate Tuttle - Boston Globe)
“The characters are too fascinating to miss.” (Amy Kamp - Austin Chronicle)
“An intellectually agile and incessantly compelling portrait of post-9/11 America―or what we are and of what we might become.” (Padma Viswanathan - Rumpus)
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Top Customer Reviews
I felt that I knew the characters personally, I could see and feel them. The detailed description of characters and scenes, combined with quotes from court documents and letters and blogs made me feel like I was part of the story.
The book gave me deep insight into some distressed and hopeful souls that all want to belong and struggle to find their identity as Americans. A powerful cultural dissection that should become part of every school's syllabus.
The True American is one of the most moving books I've read in a long time and I believe everyone must read it to understand contemporary American life and its implications for the future of a multicultural society.
Following that act of violence, the author retraces the lives of both men. Stroman, born into a dysfunctional loosely- knit family, has a record of trouble from early days in school. Bhuiyan was raised in a tightly knit Muslim family and served as a disciplined pilot in the Bangladesh Air Force. He comes to American to pursue what he understands to be the American dream. Their past and their future prospects couldn't be further apart.
The author retells the events of the murder, the trial, and the path both men follow to find redemption. Believing he owes God for saving his life, Bhuiyan eventually overcomes anger and disappointment and forgives Stroman and works to appeal his death sentence. Due to several encounters with others in prison and the forgiveness of Bhuiyan, Stroman comes to believe that his death sentence is actually a "life saving" event as he finds a sense of peace.
This is a book about faith and religion, poverty and ambition, culture and politics, and a view of American values from the viewpoint of an immigrant and a man who believes himself to be the "true American." The final chapters given an insightful view of generational poverty, dysfunction, and lack of direction. Although the events in the book are complicated, the book is extremely readable and griping and provides plenty of food for thought.
And while I applaud Giridharadas's courage in telling the story of a Muslim who defies the stereotypes and generalities of today's 'War on Terrorism' world, and his attempt to uncover and help his readers understand the roots of the prejudice, frustration and hatred that led Mark Stroman to murder 2 innocent immigrants and seriously injure another shortly after 9/11, for much of True American, particularly the latter half, I felt like I was somewhere between a docudrama and high level social study. For this I give True American 4 stars, and 4 stars overall.
True American is an important and revealing book, however, especially if you've never been exposed to the underbelly of today's meth-addicted, transient social stratum. Following Mark Storman's execution (another form of violence explored in the book), Giridharadas takes his readers on a journey through the lives of Stroman's children as they deal with the horror and guilt of their father's racism and violent actions, while concurrently struggling to free themselves from the vicious cycle of poverty, addiction and extreme disfunction they were brought up in. The same roots that led Stroman to murder and his ultimate fate.
There are many valuable topics and messages in True American. Skipping through the lessor details, it is definitely worth a read and follow up discussion. Hope that you find the same.
This work can be a wonderful tool in helping all of us to understand each other more deeply and see what makes all of us Americans. I'm glad I read it.