Sunil Yapa’s debut novel Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist throws us through seven windows, seven sets of eyes, right into the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. We see the events unfold through the white chief of police and his estranged black son; a pacifist organizer and his partner who’s seriously struggling with the ideology; two more cops, one with a mean streak and the other trying to reign him in at every turn, taking no pleasure in the violence of the job; and a delegate from Sri Lanka, desperate to gain entry into the WTO, but curious about the protestors’ motivations.
Yapa’s writing style is, at times, experimental and fascinating. With each new chapter comes a shift in the third-person perspective offered. While the voices are close enough to get the reader deep into the characters’ heads, they also occasionally pull back with invitations to look at this or that before offering some description that’s not what the character sees but what you’re meant to see.
The story itself is complex and viscerally moving. Yapa explores, through a single day, landscapes of abuse, desperation, hope, love, of power dynamics and global politics, and of resistance when your body is all you have left. While the violence – the police brutality in particular – seems inevitable from the very beginning, it’s difficult to feel prepared for the events as they unfold. The last hundred pages will grip you, captivate you, dig into your tear ducts, and demand to be turned through the very end, acknowledgements and all.
There’s little to criticize about the work as a whole. That said, it certainly could have used one more perspective, glaringly absent from the narrative, which is that of the protester who came to riot. The primary protesters we follow are both pacifists, struggling or not, and we only briefly see protestors with opposing ideologies, from afar, without any insight into their possible motivations, lives, or justifications. The range of perspectives in this novel is a serious asset, put to great use, so it’s unfortunate that piece was missing from such a beautiful puzzle. Still, it’s a brilliant piece of fiction and more than worth a read.
[signoff predefined=”Social Media Reminder” icon=”facebook”][/signoff]