Friday, January 15, 2016

book review: The Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa

The basics:  "On a rainy, cold day in November, young Victor--a nomadic, scrappy teenager who's run away from home--sets out to join the throng of WTO demonstrators determined to shut down the city. With the proceeds, he plans to buy a plane ticket and leave Seattle forever, but it quickly becomes clear that the history-making 50,000 anti-globalization protesters--from anarchists to environmentalists to teamsters--are testing the patience of the police, and what started out as a peaceful protest is threatening to erupt into violence. Over the course of one life-altering afternoon, the fates of seven people will change forever: foremost among them police Chief Bishop, the estranged father Victor hasn't seen in three years, two protesters struggling to stay true to their non-violent principles as the day descends into chaos, two police officers in the street, and the coolly elegant financial minister from Sri Lanka whose life, as well as his country's fate, hinges on getting through the angry crowd, out of jail, and to his meeting with the President of the United States. When Chief Bishop reluctantly unleashes tear gas on the unsuspecting crowd, it seems his hopes for reconciliation with his son, as well as the future of his city, are in serious peril."--publisher

My thoughts: Lately I find myself drawn to novels set in the more recent past of the 1990's. It makes sense: I'm now old enough to have clear memories of those events, and enough time has passed to give some perspective about how those events fit into history. So the premise of this novel intrigued me greatly. I recall the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, but I found I didn't know, or perhaps didn't remember, many details about them.

I'm also drawn to stories with multiple perspectives, but that's where this novel stopped working for me. The first chapter is from Victor's perspective, and he is a richly drawn character. Through him, the reader is able to learn about him and have a sense of what's happening in Seattle, even as Victor does not yet grasp what's happening. When the novel shifted to other voices, however, I didn't find them to be authentic. So much of this novel relies on the entire cast of characters that it prevented me from engaging with and appreciating this one as much as I'd hoped.

Favorite passage: "Victor, he was onto some higher math. The calculus kind of bud, the physics of dispersal, the geometry of escape."

The verdict: I didn't care for this novel, but I'm still enchanted by the idea of it, and I'm eager to see what Yapa writes next.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: January 12, 2016
Source: publisher

Want to read it? Buy Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Sunil Yapa's website, connect with him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter

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  1. I'm already iffy about multiple narrative perspectives, so I think I'll take a pass on this one. Especially since you and I have such similar tastes.

  2. I haven't heard much about this one but it does sound good even though you didn't care for it. I am not a fan of multiple perspectives unless it's handled really, really well.


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