Rais Bhuiyan immigrated to America from Bangladesh in 1999 and moved to Dallas in 2001 to earn money working in a convenience store. He had dreams of educating himself as a computer programmer and earning enough money to buy a house for his fiancée Abida, who still lived in Dhaka with her parents. All these dreams were derailed when—a week after 9/11—a so-called “American terrorist” named Mark Stroman walked into the mini-mart and shot Bhuiyan in the face. Trailing a long criminal record behind him, Stroman grievously injured Bhuiyan, while shooting and killing two other South Asian men working at convenience stores in “retaliation” for the events of 9/11. For these hate crimes, which were tried as capital murder, Stroman was sentenced to “the Death.”
The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas tells the interlocking stories of these two men whose lives collided in September 2001. Like the very best creative nonfiction, this suspenseful true crime book uses the techniques of literature to develop its characters, themes and plot. Bhuiyan is our appealing protagonist, a man who never gives up trying to better himself, and who treats all humans with respect—including the man who tried to kill him. Antagonist Stroman is downwardly mobile, a lower-middle-class kid who never caught a break, and who is filled with rage toward anyone who isn’t white (and male).
Crosscutting between these two characters, New York Times columnist Anand Giridharadas creates a compelling narrative of crime, forgiveness and redemption. The first half of the book explores the pasts of Bhuiyan and Stroman and the forces that brought them so tragically together; the second half reveals the spiritual growth both men pursued in the years after 9/11. While on death row, Stroman develops a correspondence with an Israeli filmmaker and begins to re-examine his own prejudices. Meanwhile, Bhuiyan makes a pilgrimage to Mecca and realizes that he must not only forgive Stroman, but also campaign against the death penalty.
The final scenes of the book bring these two men back together as Stroman faces the consequences for his crimes and Bhuiyan discovers a vocation as a human-rights activist. The True American brilliantly pairs these two American life stories and creates a gripping portrait of our times.