This week’s Maria’s staff pick

by Kirbie Bennett

Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, by Sunil Yapa

During the turmoil of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, the Spanish anarchist Buenaventura Durruti, responding to a comment about the futility of the revolution, exclaimed: “We are going to inherit the earth; there is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts. That world is growing this minute.” Although the revolution was short-lived, it painted a portrait of the possibility of another world. It is with such radical fervor and hope that the Sri Lankan author Sunil Yapa offers his debut novel, Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist to a world spinning with fear and chaos.

Delivered with gripping, fiery prose, Yapa’s novel takes place during the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. The narration shifts among a diverse cast of characters, such as Victor, a jaded 19-year-old runaway who wanders into the protests trying to sell weed to anyone as desperate and disillusioned as him; Chief Bishop, the estranged father of the runaway, trying to maintain law and order not just among protesters but also among his police department; as well as a lineup of officers and activists, all of whom struggle to understand their purpose as they confront the flaws and conundrums in one another.

Most unique of all is the subplot of the character Dr. Charles Wickramsinghe, a delegate from Sri Lanka, pinning the future of his country onto these WTO meetings, wondering how to make sense of the anger of protesters in the streets while questioning his own ability to bring positive change in luxurious, elite conferences.

Yapa effectively places the reader in the middle of the events – one becomes immersed in the confusion, pessimism and optimism among the characters; true believers who at times question what they believe, yet they keep taking those leaps of faith. And, thanks to the author’s talent for crafting a richly-layered story, empathy is evoked for the novel’s well-developed, complex cast. Throughout my reading of the book, a whirlwind of emotions was surging through me as this group of men and women persevered through teargas, beatings and lingering despair. All of this exemplifies Yapa’s natural ability to connect the personal to the political. He brings to life the importance of intersectionality in the struggle for justice.

Nearly 20 years have passed since those five days that shook the world in Seattle in 1999. Yet the impact of those protests echo in today’s social movements. And as neoliberalism continues to expand, weakening the autonomy of developing countries, especially with the recent signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Yapa’s novel of protest and solidarity is a powerful, timely release.

If you’re suffering from the Ted Cruz Blues; from the Endless Empire Blues, Yapa’s bold debut novel is the cure for you. His words are arrows to the chest, bricks crashing through the windows of institutions spreading fear and chaos. Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist sings the power of “faith without end, love without border.”

Kirbie Bennett

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