Sunil Yapa situates his debut novel, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, over the course of one calamitous afternoon, that of the November 30, 1999, protests against the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. Victor, a homeless nineteen-year-old estranged from his father (the chief of the Seattle Police Department), joins the congregation of righteously-enraged free spirits blocking the machinations of economic exploitation. His plan to sell marijuana turns into a near-arrest by a hostile police officer, narrowly avoided due to the skilled intervention of King, a female student of non-violent resistance tactics.
The peripatetic viewpoints of Victor, King, and others would ideally illuminate the complexities involved in both the affairs of nation states, and the particular ones in those nations’ souls. Unfortunately, the overstrained emotionalism of Yapa’s language sometimes precludes their voices from mouthing more than platitudes. Despite this, many of the themes explored in this book – the blurring of theory and reality, the legitimacy of sweeping social action in supposed solidarity with groups of people who most Americans have never met (consider the hypocrisy of wearing “sweatshop shoes to a sweatshop protest”), the tensions between freedom and order in the duties of law enforcement – haunt our lives especially in this moment, an echo of the present past. To be confronted with the flesh of another human being in a realm charged with the terrifying uncertainty of the stranger will always reveal the best – and the worst – of us. As Yapa says, “What is the function of the heart, if not to convince the blood to stay at home . . . But restless thing that it is, your blood, it leaps into the world.”
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