Reading Sunil Yapa’s Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist was such a wonderful experience, I would pause and put the book down and just sit and think about a section I had just read. I would pick it back up and read it again, even reading aloud to savor the words. I did not want it to end, but then I also could not wait to read what was going to happen next.
N30, November 30, 1999 was the day labor, environmental, social justice and peace activists came together and forced the cancellation of the WTO Ministerial Conference opening.They shut down the streets of Seattle and blocked delegates from reaching the conference center. It is also the day the Seattle police lost their collective minds and met nonviolence with violence. There are many unofficial narratives that day that are starkly different from the official narrative that served the interests of those whose interests were also served by the WTO.
Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist explores that day through the narratives of one of the delegates who is the Finance Minister of Sri Lanka, the Chief of Police, his alienated and long-missing son who is swept up into the protests, a couple of police officers and some long-time activists trained in the skills of nonviolent resistance. They move throughout the day, all converging eventually in the square in front of the conference where they come together in an explosive and violent confrontation that will break and heal you heart at the same time.
This book is very much oriented toward the themes and demands of social and economic justice and the activist discipline of nonviolence, but it is at its heart a story of love–not romantic love, but familial love and agape, the spiritual love for humanity that can be transcendent. Viktor, the young man who ran away from home three years ago and who, after traveling the world, has returned to Seattle, finds that love when he volunteers to lock-down with other protesters in a circle blocking the intersection. Sitting for hours, suffering the pain of tear gas and watching the violence unfold, he finds that transcendence and it is beautiful. King, a long-time activist whose actions have not matched her ideals, loses her courage and then finds it again, in a moment of transcendent love. These moments are miracles.
Dr. Charles Wickramsinghe, the Sri Lankan minister who is determined to get to the conference and meet President Clinton and find a way for Sri Lanka to join the WTO is waylaid by police, roughed up and arrested and finds his way to a bus with arrested protesters waiting transport to jail. He is eventually freed, but meanwhile, he hears them explain why they are protesting and realizes they are not just acting out of privilege, which was his first thought–knowing as he does the reality of Sri Lanka in contrast to their romanticized dreams.
The story tick-tocks through the day from the early optimism and confidence to the spiraling chaos and disarray to the violence and its aftermath. It is fascinating, urgent and filled with color and contrast.
There are also these amazing paths the author takes us on. For example, when Viktor is being drenched with tear gas, we are asked to consider the chemist who developed it and is he responsible for what is done with it? How can we blame him? But then, can we blame t he pilots who dropped it on the Vietnamese. Or the politicians who make the wars that the citizens support. We are alienated from our actions. It is one small section, so beautiful, so compassionate and asking questions so profound we will all struggle to answer.
This book is magical. It is fresh and unique. Has anyone written anything like it before? The prose is poetic with a remarkable ability to put the reader right into the setting and the narrative. There are stream of consciousness eddies that catch you and hold you in place for a moment while one character or another circles around an idea that simply take your breath away. I loved this book. I will read it again.