Pledges of Allegiance

Ayad Akhtar in The New York Times:

Cover-sub-sfSpanTen days after 9/11, self-professed “Texas loud, Texas proud” Mark Stroman walked into a Dallas mini-mart, pulled out a gun and asked the brown man working behind the counter where he was from. The hesitation in the clerk’s reply was enough to unleash Stroman’s hatred for Muslims, whom he referred to as people with “shawls on their face.” Stroman pulled the trigger, but his victim, Raisuddin Bhuiyan, an enterprising immigrant from Bangladesh — and a Muslim, indeed — would survive. The other two victims from the fortnight’s vigilante shooting spree, immigrants from India and Pakistan, would not. So begins Anand Giridharadas’s “The True American,” a richly detailed, affecting account of two men bound, as it turned out, by more than just an act of violence.

Bhuiyan’s misfortune served as an introduction to certain stark realities of American life: The day after being admitted to the hospital, he was asked to leave. The injury was serious, yes, but he was told he would be fine. What Bhuiyan didn’t know was that, without insurance, the hospital assessors saw bills mounting that weren’t going to be paid. They saw a “fledgling immigrant and gas station clerk,” Giridharadas writes, and assumed he wouldn’t be good for the money. One of the many satisfying twists of this trauma-filled book is that he would be. Another is the conclusion Bhuiyan comes to about American debt: that it “contradicted those attributes of the republic for which he had left” Bangladesh. In America, debt “bound you to history, and kept you who you were, and replaced the metaphor of the frontier with that of a treadmill.”

More here.