Sunil Yapa’s debut novel tells a fictionalized version of the events of the 1999 Seattle protests on the World Trade Organization. Told in alternating limited third-person, the novel follows seven very different characters that all experience the same day.
Over the course of the novel, readers follow nineteen-year-old Victor (a black runaway), police chief Bishop (Victor’s white stepfather), King (a female twenty-something protestor), Officers Park and Julia (partners, Park being crude and ruthless, Julia being calm and disciplined), John Henry (a nonviolent figurehead of the protest), and Dr. Charles Wickramsinghe (a Sri Lankan delegate trying to secure a spot for his country in the WTO).
Readers see the world, and the violent and catastrophic events of the protest, through the eyes of each of these characters. We follow Victor’s transformation from uninformed, uninterested boy trying to sell enough weed to buy a plane ticket out of the country into a deeply passionate man giving his all for the cause of the protest.
King goes from nonviolent figurehead trying to escape her violent past, to a poor woman who can’t accept herself and her mistakes.
Chief Bishop goes from trying to take back his city, to trying to take back his son that’s been missing for three years.
One of the most interesting plotlines readers follow is that of Dr. Charles, the Sri Lankan delegate. His determination and drive to see to it that his home nation gets admitted into the WTO to save and modernize it is a beautiful thing to read.
The novel’s title reflects the theme of the book, which is the passion and drive in one’s heart to do what they believe is right. The expression that ‘your heart is a muscle the size of a fist’ relates to the thousands upon thousands of Americans that gathered in Seattle to shut down the WTO meetings and prevent them from auctioning off the third world countries for business.
They all put their fists up, and by doing so, put their hearts up. Everything they held in their hearts, they put up to the sky in protest. Readers follow the seven characters as they do the same thing.
Sunil Yapa’s novel is beautiful and compelling almost the whole way though. Unfortunately, sections of it get cluttered with flowery, overwriting. Too much description and exposition, not enough action.
But for the vast majority of the novel, it’s a wonderful read. Each character is written in a way that makes the reader truly feel that they believe what they’re thinking and doing is right.
To be able to write a story so well with seven different voices telling it is impressive and commendable. For a debut novel, Yapa has written a gem.