“Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist”, by Sunil Yapa - Book Review

The World Trade Organization negotiations in Seattle of 1999 were memorable for their controversy, protests, and stark violence that took place. Delegates from around the world tried to gather to discuss free trade agreements amongst nations, while thousands (40,000+) of protesters halted the opening day ceremonies through acts of civil disobedience. Months of planning took place by opposition groups to influence or halt the talks, culminating in violent clashes with police. It was a very dark event, that went out of control.

Author Sunil Yapa has written his debut novel from the perspective of those attending these WTO events. Part historical fiction, part  political commentary, Yapa’s retelling of the opening day deftly moves from person to person, with vivid descriptions of each attendee’s viewpoint. We hear first from a runaway teen who had no intention of getting involved in the protests, but somehow got swept up in it; from two protestors and their own fears, joys, and sense of purpose; three police officers, including the Seattle Chief of Police; and finally, a Sri Lankan delegate attending the meetings.  Each chapter moves to a different character, checking in with them throughout the day - from the peaceful and festive atmosphere of early morning, to forceful clashes between police and protestors chained together to block streets from passage; of tear gas, police brutality, and the combination of cruelty and love that can exist simultaneously in our hearts.

There is subtext for each of the characters as well, including the source of anger behind an officer’s venom, our runaway’s search for deep meaning in life in the face of his mother’s death and his father’s cynical view of the world, and the delegate’s recognition of his place as merely a cog in the world stage wheel.  Here is where you’ll find the true interest in the story, and where I imagine the title of the book is born - the heart is not a simple vessel, but one of complex emotion capable of great affection and equal devastation. 

Yapa’s book is a quick read and illuminated for me what my memory of the event had long lost. My only disappointment was the consistent and extensive flowery style - descriptions lasted paragraphs, verging on rants. Though this shouldn’t be a reason not to pick this one up.

Published: 2016
Publisher: Lee Boudreaux Books

Vickie’s rating: 3 stars