Aspen Times Weekly book review: ‘Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist’
320 pages, paperback; $15.99
Lee Boudreaux/Back Bay Books, 2016
If you’re tired of reading election analyses, media mea culpas and hot takes by now, if you’re feeling fury but yearning for hope, pick up Sunil Yapa’s novel “Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist.”
Yapa’s exhilarating debut novel about the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle was released in paperback just before Donald Trump’s election and the eruption of marches and demonstrations against the president-elect in cities across the U.S. It’s about what resistance, commitment and fighting the power look and feel like on the ground, in the tear gas.
The novel tells the story of the Battle of Seattle from the perspective of seven characters on both sides – cops and protestors alike, including Seattle’s chief of police and his estranged son, Victor, who falls in with the demonstrators. It moves with the velocity of a pulp thriller yet holds the depth and weight of capital “L” literature.
The thing that makes “Your Heart is a Muscle” work so well – and maybe what suits it to this moment – is that it’s not really a political book. Yes, its sympathies are with the protestors, for the most part, not the cops. And yes, the greatest villains turn out to be callous men in suits who are pulling the international levers of power. But the book doesn’t have an agenda other than to capture the fear and fellowship in the street, to examine the moral questions facing cops and politicians and protestors alike, and to find humanity in all of them.
The disillusionment and sense of injustice that Yapa vividly captures at the WTO protest is just a shade away from the anger that sent thousands into the Denver streets last week chanting “Love trumps hate,” We will fight” and “Not my president.” Whether you are marching or trying to understand those who’ve chosen to, this is a book worth reading about how we can shape the world we want. Through all the blood and shouting and brutality, it is ultimately a book about hope.
That’s not to say that this is a perfect novel – my biggest complaint is one schematic plot that leads to a contrived happy ending. But such quibbles shouldn’t dissuade anyone from picking up this combustible, compassionate novel.
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