Anand Giridharadas sensed something was afoot as his plane from America prepared to land in Bombay. An elderly passenger looked at him and said, "We're all trying to go that way," pointing to the rear. "You, you're going this way?"
Giridharadas was returning to the land of his ancestors, amid an unlikely economic boom. But he was interested less in its gold rush than in its cultural upheaval, as a new generation has sought to reconcile old traditions and customs with new ambitions and dreams.
In India Calling, Giridharadas brings to life the people and the dilemmas of India today, through the prism of his émigré family history and his childhood memories of India. He introduces us to entrepreneurs, radicals, industrialists, and religious seekers, but, most of all, to Indian families. He shows how parents and children, husbands and wives, cousins and siblings are reinventing relationships, bending the meaning of Indianness, and enduring the pangs of the old birthing the new.
Through their stories, and his own, he paints an intimate portrait of a country becoming modern while striving to remain itself.
"Remarkable…a richly detailed, affecting account…Giridharadas seeks less to uplift than illuminate…Which of these men is the '"true American'" of the title? That there is no simple answer to that question is Giridharadas's finest accomplishment." —Ayad Akhtar, New York Times Book Review The True American tells the story of Raisuddin Bhuiyan, a Bangladesh Air Force officer who dreams of immigrating to America and working in technology. But days after 9/11, an avowed "American terrorist" named Mark Stroman, seeking revenge, walks into the Dallas minimart where Bhuiyan has found temporary work and shoots him, maiming and nearly killing him. Two other victims, at other gas stations, aren’t so lucky, dying at once.
The True American traces the making of these two men, Stroman and Bhuiyan, and of their fateful encounter. It follows them as they rebuild shattered lives—one striving on Death Row to become a better man, the other to heal and pull himself up from the lowest rung on the ladder of an unfamiliar country.
Ten years after the shooting, an Islamic pilgrimage seeds in Bhuiyan a strange idea: if he is ever to be whole, he must reenter Stroman's life. He longs to confront Stroman and speak to him face to face about the attack that changed their lives. Bhuiyan publicly forgives Stroman, in the name of his religion and its notion of mercy. Then he wages a legal and public-relations campaign, against the State of Texas and Governor Rick Perry, to have his attacker spared from the death penalty.
Ranging from Texas's juvenile justice system to the swirling crowd of pilgrims at the Hajj in Mecca; from a biker bar to an immigrant mosque in Dallas; from young military cadets in Bangladesh to elite paratroopers in Israel; from a wealthy household of chicken importers in Karachi, Pakistan, to the sober residences of Brownwood, Texas, The True American is a rich, colorful, profoundly moving exploration of the American dream in its many dimensions. Ultimately it tells a story about our love-hate relationship with immigrants, about the encounter of Islam and the West, about how—or whether—we choose what we become.
Anand Giridharadas paints a hugely revealing picture of how the cosmopolitan global elite has co-opted the idea of "changing the world": reframing social problems as market problems; lavishly rewarding "thought leaders" who peddle winner-friendly theories of progress; and asking always how to do more good but never how to do less harm. Giridharadas hears the limousine confessions of a major charity's executive, tangles with a former American president about his plutocratic hangers-on, and attends a cruise-ship conference where entrepreneurs celebrate their own self-interested magnanimity. He poses difficult, urgent questions: Should the world's gravest problems be solved by unelected elites rather than the public institutions they flout with lobbying and tax loopholes? What does it mean to give millions away if those millions--actually billions--were made selling OxyContin, the drug of choice of the opioid epidemic? And he speaks truth to power: Only by tackling problems through democracy rather than charity with strings attached can we begin to truly change the world. A call to action for both elites and everyday citizens.