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Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist Paperback – October 18, 2016
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An Amazon Best Book of January 2016: Coursing with energy, Sunil Yapa’s Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is a rocket ship of a book, filled with heroics, violence and the propulsive action of a heart. Over the course of a day, Yapa spools a narrative of the now infamous World Trade Organization protests that took place along the streets of Seattle in 1990--a day that started peacefully and ended in blood. Yapa’s world introduces you to a kaleidoscope of characters and each is raw, real, driven by their own obligation and role in the protests—from the Chief of Police whose city it is to protect, to an ardent non-violent activist, to a delegate making his way to an important meeting in the hopes of transforming his country. This epic day unravels from every vantage point, and the result is a story empowered with exacting empathy. Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is vivid, visceral, sly, and charged with action. You will race through it with a beating heart. --Al Woodworth --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A fantastic debut novel.... What is so enthralling about this novel is its syncopated riff of empathy as the perspective jumps around these participants--some peaceful, some violent, some determined, some incredulous... Yapa creates a fluid sense of the riot as it washes over the city. Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist ultimately does for WTO protests what Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night did for the 1967 March on the Pentagon, gathering that confrontation in competing visions of what happened and what it meant."--Ron Charles, Washington Post
"A symphony of a novel. Sunil Yapa inhabits the skins of characters vastly different to himself: a riot cop in Seattle, a punk activist, a disillusioned world traveler and a high-level diplomat, among others. Through it all Yapa showcases a raw and rare talent. This is a protest novel which finds, at its core, a deep and abiding regard for the music of what happens. In the contemporary tradition of Aleksandar Hemon and Phillipp Meyer, with echoes of Michael Ondaatje and Arundhati Roy, Yapa strives forward with a literary molotov cocktail to light up the dark."--Colum McCann, author of the National Book Award winner Let the Great World Spin
"Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is visceral, horrifying, and often heroic. But above all, this book is a full-throated chorus of voices on all sides--protestors, cops, delegates, politicians, and ramblers--as democracy runs headlong into the machinery of global power. Sunil Yapa has achieved something special, a story that is as tragic as it is relevant, as unflinching as it is humane."
―Smith Henderson, author of Fourth of July Creek
"Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is a stunningly orchestrated, symphonic work of narrative power. This novel marshals all the vital forces of our existence--from the domestic to the political--and offers them to the reader with equal doses of compassion and beauty."―Dinaw Mengestu, author of All Our Names
"There is nothing to say about Sunil Yapa's debut novel that its wonderful title doesn't already promise--its heart beats and bleeds on every page, in prose so raw it feels built of muscle and tissue and sinew and sweat. This book is delightfully, forcefully alive, and I feel more alive for having read it."―Eleanor Henderson, author of Ten Thousand Saints
"An open-armed love letter to humanity, this glorious novel loops around a burning center encompassing the warmth of parents and the coolness of patriarchy. Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist will compel you to look and then to witness. 'We are mad with hope' the narrator says early on, and by the end the reader is too."―Tiphanie Yanique, author of Land of Love and Drowning
"Sunil Yapa's debut novel is possibly the most gorgeous book I've read in my entire life... Yapa's pattern of meandering, artful, full-bodied imagery, punctuated by zingy one-liners makes for a seriously addictive read... It's painful. It's gorgeous. I can't say this enough: read it."
"A vital, powerful read, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is an absorbing, multi-faceted, acutely hopeful novel."―Patrick deWitt, author of Undermajordomo Minor and The Sisters Brothers
"A great wrenching beautiful book."―Laline Paull, author of The Bees
"Chilling...A memorable, pulse-pounding literary experience."―Publishers Weekly
"[A] gripping debut...Yapa is a skilled storyteller, revealing just enough about his characters and the direction of his plot to engage his readers, yet effectively building dramatic impact by withholding certain key details. In the style of Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, Yapa ties together seemingly disparate characters and narratives through a charged moment in history, showing how it still affects us all in different ways."―Booklist
"Yapa's writing is visceral and unsparing. Noteworthy, capital-I Important and a ripping read, his novel will be on many "best" lists in 2016."―Library Journal (starred review)
"In this beautifully written, kaleidoscopically shifting novel.... Yapa penetrates to the human connections and disconnections at play between the lines of history in the era of the global village."―Chicago Tribune
"If you're looking for a novel that moves with heat this winter, look no further."―Flavorwire
"The energy and sheer humanity of Sunil Yapa's debut will grab you, wrap you in, and won't let you go-and that's just the start of why you're going to love this. Seven characters narrate this charged book, which centers on a protest. It's so layered, you'll finish this wondering how Yapa pulled off what he did."―Bustle
"It's not often that a novel takes a fraught event from the recent past, one that most of us only experienced in the flash of the cable news cycle or the static of print headlines, and imbues it with so much heart and soul that we do something we almost never do in the constant crush forward and faster-we pause and reconsider. That is the power of literature. Sunil Yapa's Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist does just this for the momentous protests of the 1999 World Trade Organization's (WTO).... Yapa does a heroic job of journeying into the heart of this complex set of events, illustrating how they grow out of and impact the character's lives. And while the heart may be the size of a fist, here it paradoxically seems to encompass the whole world and all of its citizens, who pulse with its every beat."―The Rumpus
"[A] gripping, profoundly humane first novel.... An absolutely compelling read."―Bookpage
"Yapa's novel is a much-needed and refreshing pivot point. His novel makes a case for the validity of all opinions in a conflict the better part of two decades old. This rare quality of his work is a practice that many could benefit from in current conflicts, foreign and domestic."
"Sunil Yapa's voice and ambition leap off the page. Here is a writer to watch."
―Minneapolis Star Tribune
"This furiously paced and contrapuntal literary tour-de-force makes use of multiple vantage points and benefits from a remarkably empathic sensibility on the part of its author.... With Yapa burrowing into the hearts of these characters, each distinct yet sufferers all, his already weighty story attains a level of profundity."―Miami Herald
"Like magic, Yapa uses this handful of perspectives to create snapshots that allow the reader to imagine who else was there that day and what they were doing, thinking, and feeling...I can't imagine a better book to have kicked off my year in reading."―Bookriot
"Fast-paced and unflinching.... As these characters encounter one another in a fog of tear gas and pepper spray, Yapa vividly evokes rage and compassion. Underlying the novel, and at once reinforced and rejected, is the chief's mantra: "Care too much and the world will kill you cold."―Dallas Morning News
"Yapa's melding of fact and fiction, human frailty and geopolitics, is a genuine tour-de-force, and an exciting literary debut."―Seattle Times
"Fast-paced and unflinching.... As these characters encounter one another in a fog of tear gas and pepper spray, Yapa vividly evokes rage and compassion. Underlying the novel, and at once reinforced and rejected, is the chief's mantra: "Care too much and the world will kill you cold."―New Yorker
"A beautifully written book."―Entertainment Weekly
"An achingly compassionate fiction debut."―O Magazine
"As electric a novel as I've ever read."
―Benjamin Percy, Esquire
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Top Customer Reviews
The book takes place in Seattle on a single day in 1999 when the World Trade Organization came to town to hold its Ministerial Conference. Massive street protests ensued, with protesters targeting the intersections near the conference center where the delegates planned to meet. As a result of the protests, the conference was postponed until the next day, more than a 150 people were arrested without probable cause, police overtime and vandalism of nearby buildings cost the city millions of dollars, and the term "anti-globalization" became part of the public dialogue. However, despite the impact of the protests and the complexity of the political and economic issues, The Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist begins and ends with Victor, a young street person who gets caught up in the demonstrations while trying to sell some weed.
Yapa is concerned with emotions, passionate ones, rather than ideology, and with Victor, he gives us a portrait of a young man who leaps at the chance to belong to a movement. Victor longs to be one with the poor and dispossessed of the earth. As a child, he had helped his mother volunteer in a soup line, and as an adult he remembers, "the way the men were grateful for the hot food yet accepted it only as one might pass a plate down a family table. God bless the beautiful necessities of food and flesh. . . .When that is taken from you, there can be no giving it back."
Although Victor comes from a middle class background -- in fact, he is the bitterly estranged son of the police chief -- his great desire to identify with the poor is no affectation. It is love, painful, intense, and almost entirely fruitless. It is also something his father had warned him against. "Son, have you ever asked yourself why Buddhist monasteries are built in remote mountains with walls thirty feet high? Love and compassion for the entire world, six billion selfish souls, Victor. Are you man enough?"
In a lesser author's hands, the father son clash, which is central to the novel, would quickly become a trite struggle between two cliches; ignorant but idealistic youth against wiser but sadder middle age. Instead Victor and his father are both men who have an inchoate image of the world they want, a need to reconcile with each other, and little else but anger or fear. They struggle blindly in figurative and sometimes literal darkness. When Victor's father learns that Victor has returned to Seattle, he has a patrolman take him to the homeless camp beneath a bridge where Victor lives. He is frightened and appalled by what he sees.
The blue tarps hung with clothesline, the crappy tents huddled in the grit with the trucks a constant pounding overhead like a galloping migraine. The cars green-bodied flies that whirred and buzzed above their heads. The concrete hollows lit by firelight and the blue hissing of the cookstoves. The low murmur of voices which disappeared beneath the sound of the nearby waves smashing against the seawall. He was frightened, and of course he said nothing, did not show this, how he was suddenly frightened of the dark, this dark, frightened by what might be out there and frighted by the depth of the world and all he did not know. His son lived down here?
Victor, in self-imposed "lock down" with his new friends, is so frightened that he can't even bring himself to steady his nerves with chanting. The other protesters struggle with their own fear and with their memories of past failures, and the police, who react with startling brutality, are haunted by a different set of nightmares. This is how one officer remembers his own father, who had been kept in a hole when he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
His voice stretched thin as if traveling a wire which originated from the dampness of that dark hole and terminated somewhere in his trembling brain stem. Gooks, his voice so tortured and weird. Weird -- that was the word because in moments like this it was as if his father were not his father, but would always remain that man alone in a hole looking for a bug to eat.
The intensity of this book can make the reader feel like he's down in a hole of some sort with these characters, and Yapa wisely gives us Dr. Charles Wickramsinghe, the disciplined and persevering delegate from Sri Lanka. Wickramsinghe, who is on a mission to keeping his country from "starving on the doorsteps" of the first world nation, has worked relentlessly to get Sri Lanka into the WTO that the protesters are trying to disband. He is less than pleased when he finds a mob of young Americans blocking him from the meeting.
This is what made it so American -- not that they felt compassion for mistreated workers three continents away, workers they had never seen or known, whose world they could not begin to understand, not that they felt guilty about their privilege, no, not that either, but that they felt the need to do something about it. That they felt they had the power to do something about it. That was what made it so American.
He felt a sudden, queasy sadness. What if they knew what a real revolutionary was?
Well, they don't know. Not even Dr. Wickramsinghe, with all his experience and intelligence really understands his place in the world. Still, everybody in this book wants something, wants passionately to do the right thing, to be a helper in a troubled world, to stop feeling afraid. They keep trying; the book ends with a powerful vision of love. It's a deeply moving work.
Such a beautiful story about human nature and human experience. Each of the 7 people who's perspectives we get have something to lose in this story. And I really felt all of the perspectives help to really wrap me up in the experience of the story and of the protest.
I did my thesis in college on the media's coverage of protests, and it the WTO protests were a large part of my research. And it was interesting to see what I found in my research, mirrored in this book. To see the author use what the media highlighted verses what they did not to underline his point. You spend the whole book feeling something for every one of these characters and then you're struck with the knowledge that in the real life events of that day so many people were sitting by seeing it through the lens of the media machine and losing the stories of the protestors, or the cops, of the delegates.
Bottomline: This was beautiful, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and has left me with so much to think about.
During the course of the day, Yapa brings together seven characters: the white police chief and his runaway black step-son who joined the protesters, a Latina cop and a white redneck cop always trying to hit on her, two longtime professional activists who were past lovers, and a naïve delegate from Sri Lanka. The police chief, initially seen as a modern marvel of compassion and common sense, turns brutal as the control tactics fail and the protest dissolves into extreme police brutality to clear the street for the transport of the delegates. Each character, first seen as stereotypical, is gradually revealed as far more complex or with dark pasts.
The protesters principally opposed the use of child labor in third world production for Americans addicted to cheap products, but the author also seemed to oppose any offshore manufacturing, as if undeveloped countries should remain pure and idealistic in their ancient manual labor, which also means ignoring their poverty, lack of clean water and high child death rates. The delegate from Sri Lanka describes the poverty in his country perpetuated by 3000-year-old backward methods of fishing and farming, hoping for loans from America to cover their impossible ever-growing monetary deficits, loans they can never repay.
Yapa draws a parallel of the protesters trying desperate methods to gain the world’s attention, risking police brutality, and the Sri Lankas wanting western investments in manufacturing that result in corruption and sweat-shop conditions: the only choice is slavery or suicide.
The characters remain stereotypical, and the prose is filled with lyrical, unending repetitions that mimic an amateur singer’s runs as if such runs raise the novel to literary art: sentences that run 22 lines and an examination of a character’s thought running to five pages. Instead, the style becomes melodramatic with unintended caricatures of rhetorical-style literary prose. At times the story seems a parody, a Fargo version of dystopia, or at best a failed Slaughterhouse Five.