9.25.2016

what i'm reading: your heart is a muscle the size of a fist by sunil yapa

If only Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist could be required reading. Everyone who has ever scoffed cynically at protesters. Everyone who has ever seen a mainstream news report showing a burning car, over and over and over, but not showing tens of thousands of peaceful protesters, and looked no deeper. Everyone who has ever denied police violence against peaceful, law-abiding citizens, or assumed that police violence is necessary to maintain order at protests. Every one of these people should read this book.

In this impressive debut novel, author Sunil Yapa takes us into the so-called "Battle of Seattle" -- the protests against the World Trade Organization summit in that city in 1999. But the time and place could be any of the G8 or G10 or G20 summits -- any of the meetings where the ruling elite side-step the democratic process as they carve up the world for global capitalism.

The reader sees the mass protests through the eyes of many different characters: activists, cops, delegates, restless world travelers. People in grief, people with secrets, people searching. Activists who have different motivations and different levels of experience and commitment. Cops who care deeply about their city and its people, cops who care about power and revenge. A delegate who believes the WTO is the answer to world hunger and poverty, and wants his third-world country at the table. The action takes place in a single day, and by the time the day is over, every character will be profoundly changed by the experience.

The politics of the book are obvious, but woven naturally into the fabric of the story. Most of the characters feel fully realized; rarely is anyone a billboard for an idea. The author does an especially excellent job of articulating how it feels to join a mass protest -- the deep love, solidarity, and sense of belonging it can create. He also portrays police violence fully and in horrifying detail -- a story that needs to be told.

My required-reading daydream dissolves in the light of day. The people who most need to read this book won't read it, and if they did, wouldn't believe it. They would accuse the author of fabricating and exaggerating. For better and worse, The Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is authentic, and genuine, and true. An excellent read for people who care.

2 comments:

karen said...

You made this sound so good I went out and bought it. Devoured it in less than a day. I needed it. I had forgotten why I went to meetings and helped organize protests and fundraisers. In the past I had felt Arundhati Roy's possible world breathing, and then I had lost it. There it was again, in the pages of that book.

You never know where you might find hope, nor where you might provide it.
Thank you.

laura k said...

Karen, how wonderful! I'm so glad this post resonated for you, and that the book did even more so.

You never know where you might find hope, nor where you might provide it.

So so so so true. Thank you very much.