BookTalk Sisters

Gathering together around books

What We Are Reading Now

The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas  

by Anand Giridharadas      

     I really enjoy reading nonfiction and this book is s a journalistic retelling of events surrounding an American tragedy. The author delves into the lives of Raissudin Bhuiyan and Mark Stroman. Bhuiyan is a recent immigrant from Bangladesh who makes his way first to New York and then Texas in hopes of gaining an economic foothold in his new country. In Bangladesh, Bhuiyan's well-to-do family provided him with an elite education and military training, but in the United States Bhuiyan finds himself working long hours at a gas station in order to make ends meet. Goal driven, he has plans to marry a love from back home, go to college and pursue American middle class stability. However, days after 9/11, Bhuiyan is working his long shift when he is robbed and brutally shot by Mark Stroman, a self-declared American terrorist out to avenge the senseless attacks on his country. In his violent tear across a Dallas suburb in which he shoots Bhuiyan and two others, the gunman only adds to the senselessness of this tragic period in our history. Bhuiyan, of course, is not to blame.

      Unfortunate incidents like that were probably duplicated across the country more than we know. The True American is not so much about that incident as it is about what choices and circumstances lead Bhuyian and Stroman’s lives to cross paths and, more importantly, how do the men, their families and communities recover from it.

         I was drawn to this book because it details an immigrant experience I am less familiar with and answers some of the questions I often have about anyone who chooses to restart a life here. How do recent immigrants see native Americans?  How do they see through our culture to avoid its pitfalls, including race and class boundaries that are more rigid than we realize? What does American poverty look like to someone who has seen Third World poverty and despair?

         The True American explores these themes as well as recounts Bhuiyan's unexpected foray into our justice system motivated by a need for spiritual healing--he attempts to save Stroham from the death penalty. 


Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America

by John Waters

     While I am not reading Carsick this summer, I was amused by John Waters' project to hitchhike across America. Thumbing across the States is not such an original idea, but John Waters negotiating his way from one coast to another, from car to car sounds pretty funny to me. 

Mainstream audiences know Waters from the Broadway and film productions of Hairspray.  His mainstream efforts have been pretty harmless, but as a Baltimorean, I am forever scarred by some of the edgier images from films like Pink Flamingoes. If you know Waters early films, then you know the images. Enough said. I can never dissociate those images from the man and for the most part those associations taint my opinions of someone whose work I might otherwise enjoy.  However, I do boast a certain familiarity with Waters that allows me to be open to possibilities and suggest his book here.  

Familiarity is too strong of a word, really, but when I lived in Mt. Vernon, Baltimore's downtown arts district, on several occasions I saw Waters on Charles Street. I was standing in front of a gallery waiting for a bus and his car was parked a few feet away.  As he approached his car, he pleasantly smiled and nodded in my direction, and smiled and nodded back. I do now know that he expected me to know who he was, but his gesture was so completely genuine that it won me over. So I approach his work with a cautious optimism  and give him a nod here.