'The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas': An immigrant goes from victim of violent racism to forgiver of his attacker

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We often are told that we are a nation of immigrants. And that we are, to be sure. In "The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas," author Anand Giridharadas gives us the true story of one newcomer. He is Raisuddin Bhuiyan, a young officer in the Bangladesh Air Force who leaves family and career behind to immigrate to the United States. Rais hopes to advance his studies and get a high tech job.

After a brief stay in New York, Rais moves to Dallas, where an acquaintance gives him work in a convenience store. But a few days after Sept. 11, 2001, a white supremacist named Mark Stroman, "out there hunting Arabs," walks into the store and shoots Rais in the face. Elsewhere, Stroman shoots two other immigrant clerks. Of the three victims, none of whom are Arabs, only Rais survives.

By Anand Giridharadas
W.W. Norton & Co. ($27.95).

Stroman is swiftly apprehended, convicted, sentenced to death and dispatched to prison to await execution. Rais, alone in the still-unfamiliar Texas surroundings, begins a long, challenging and painful journey of recovery from wounds both physical and psychological. Over time, he digs himself out of debt and obtains education and employment. The years pass by.

A decade after Stroman's crimes, Rais goes on pilgrimage to Mecca. Inspired by his travels, his encounters and his studies, Rais decides to forgive Stroman. But that is not all. Rais embarks on a legal campaign to spare Stroman's life.

Mr. Giridharadas, the son of immigrants and the author of a well-received book on his parents' native India, weaves the stories of Rais and Stroman into a compelling narrative.

"The True American" is a good read, rich in detail and devoid of cant and polemic. Mr. Giridharadas has done his homework, interviewing Rais, as well as friends, family, and co-workers of Rais and Stroman, and studying videos and interviews.

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.

David Wecht is a judge of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Any views expressed herein are the author's and not offered on behalf of the Superior Court.

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