Title: The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas
Author: Anand Giridharadas
Release Date: May 5, 2014
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co.
Genre: Nonfiction, History, True Crime
Rating: 4 out of 5
This is the story of two men: Mark Stroman, a Texan who sought revenge for the 9/11 attacks, killing two gas station attendants and wounding one man, a Bangladeshi man named Raisuddin Bhuiyan. Rais first falls into a deep depression, but ultimately is inspired by his trauma and seeks to change the way our justice system works, trying to save Stroman from the death penalty.
A sad story, but ultimately surprising and uplifting, The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas is the story of two very different men who come together under the unlikeliest of circumstances and change each other irrevocably. It’s a book that’s slow at times, but the story is absolutely worth it.
The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas is a singular story, one that is both devastating and uplifting. It starts with Mark Stroman, who targets three different gas station attendants just days after 9/11. The view provided into Stroman’s mind is disturbing, at best. He is twisted, but not evil. His is a story of the cycle of poverty and lack of education, an example of how ignorance can have deadly consequences. Stroman is not a nice guy, and he’s hard to really understand. He contradicts himself often, and even by the end of the book, readers wonder what he is truly thinking. Giridharadas does well with this complex man, trying to present him, with all his strengths and weaknesses, as honestly as possible.
When I first picked up The True American, I thought it would be the story of Stroman’s shootings. What I didn’t realize is that the event was just the beginning, the tragic catalyst that had to occur so that the true story could be set in motion. And that’s the tale of Rais, and what he did after. For awhile, Rais walked around in a fog, depressed and alone. But after a pilgrimage to Mecca years later, Rais realizes that he has a purpose: to share the peaceful nature of Islam with America. And, as such, he begins his campaign to have Stroman’s death sentence commuted, arguing that he has forgiven Stroman, and thus the man should receive a life sentence, not death. The pages between Strohman’s arrest and Rais’s inspiration are slow, but the book is worth sticking with.
Rais’s mission is truly remarkable in The True American: not only to forgive the man that harmed you irrevocably, but to actively campaign so that he may live. What’s remarkable, though, is that Giridharadas tries to present an honest a story as possible. He doesn’t have an agenda or a bias. As such, he discusses Rais’s sometimes less-than-noble motives, when he enjoys the attention more than he should. It’s fascinating, juxtaposing these Mark and Rais against one another. And, when you get right down to it, you know one thing is true: these two changed each other and helped one another face hard and difficult realities.
The title of Giridharadas’s book, The True American, is, at its core, the question the author wants to ask. Who is the “true American”? What makes a “true American”? The answer, of course, is murky at best, and there probably isn’t a single correct response. What this book does do, though, is makes the reader think hard about that difficult question, taking into account the stories of both Stroman and Rais. In the end, the reader is left with some hope, and also the knowledge that, as sad as aspects of this story are, this tale of redemption could only have happened in the United States, with its immigrant culture and promises of a better tomorrow. It is, in essence, the most American story you can tell.
Other books by Anand Giridharadas: