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Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist
By Sunil Yapa
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As heartbreaking as it is pulse-pounding, Yapa’s virtuosic debut asks profound questions about the power of empathy in our hyper-connected modern world, and the limits of compassion, all while exploring how far we must go for family, for justice, and for love.
The match struck and sputtered. Victor tried again. He put match head to phosphate strip with the gentle pressure of one long finger and the thing sparked and caught and for the briefest of moments he held a yellow flame. Victor—curled into himself like a question mark, a joint hanging from his mouth; Victor with his hair natural in two thick braids, a red bandanna folded and knotted to hold them back; Victor—with his dark eyes and his thin shoulders and his cafecito con leche skin, wearing a pair of classic Air Jordans, the leather so white it glowed—imagine him how you will because he hardly knew how to see himself. He was nineteen years old and should have felt as sweet as a bluebird in the dew, but in the awful damp of the early morning, after another night of sleeping on cold concrete—or not sleeping—he moved like an old man, grumbling like the world was out to get him, had in fact perhaps already gotten him, struck him down without mercy or care or intent as if it hadn’t even seen him standing there, he had just been in the way.
He knelt and made a cup of his two brown hands. Look at him bowing his head to this fragile light, joint pinched between his lips, wearing a puffy down jacket, olive green and so ragged he might have found it abandoned on the beach. Listen to the quiet rhythm of his breath. This is his morning ritual, the closest this boy comes to prayer. Skinny Victor, who believed in his heart of hearts that most everything was bullshit, for three years he had tramped the world and still he had no idea just how it worked, how people managed daily life on this blue-green planet of slums and smog, the easy knife, the lazy blade.
The traffic on the freeway thundered over his head, the sound of the big trucks hitting the joints of the highway a muted clacking like a pair of spoons. Beyond the cave of the underpass, beyond the water and the warehouses, out in the city where the streets climbed from the docks to the downtown core, the sound of the chanting crowd was a distant buzzing—fifty thousand desperate flies knocking against fifty thousand closed windows. Victor had heard talk of it for weeks. At the shelter. Bumming smokes from the tourists on the pier. At the coffee shop nursing a tea and swiping scraps from the empty plates. And now, here they were, thousands in the streets and the way their voices rose and fell, sliding down the hill, ringing off the renovated lofts, the brick apartments, the cars parked nose to tail along the oil-black street—it was like an alarm bell sounding in his chest. It was the million-voiced ocean roar of Calcutta or Caracas booming from their angry mouths, echoing in the canyons of smoked glass and steel.
An alarm ringing in his chest saying, Go, go, go.
He had been camped in a cheap tent beneath the underpass for three months now and he had put his mind to the matter, rolled it around in that big old brain, and he knew this much—he needed to get the fuck out.
Victor, he was onto some higher math.
The calculus of kind bud, the physics of dispersal, the geometry of escape.
He had more sticky, stinky, purple-haired marijuana on his person than ever before in his short life, and the glory of it, the mind-fucking enormity of the possibilities, had him whirling.
Because weed equaled cash and cash equaled a ticket on the airline of his choice to the destination of his choice. He was going to ignore how he scored the weed because escape velocity was the dope necessary to break free from the gravity of home’s heavy hold. Lord, let us fly. Yeah, get the feet moving at a pleasant cruising speed of five hundred miles per hour to some dark and lovely corner of the globe. Let pilot and copilot read the dials and mark the birds; Victor only wanted to recline his seat and watch the border recede below him like a line of marching ants following a trail of sugar to its source.
He lowered his head to the flame, mindful of his braids. But in the windiest spot he could have chosen, his hands proved an insufficient home. His little cardboard match, his little paper flame, she bent horizontal and made her exit, disappeared before she had done what work he required.
He gave up. Dropped joint and matchbook in the breast pocket of his down jacket and retired to his tent, where he ducked inside and gathered his sleeping bag in his arms and stuffed it into its sack. He rolled his mat and tied it with a length of cord. He sat on the roll of foam and slid off his shoes and removed an old toothbrush from the pocket of his jacket and began polishing the white leather, the brush kept strictly for this purpose. The shoes he hadn’t seen in years. A gift from his father, long ago. So long ago it seemed like another life. He had kept them boxed for years—preserved in the clean antiseptic air of an anger so large and old and familiar he had no name for it. His father.
In the morning when he woke and at night before turning in and during the odd windblown moments of the day when the boredom or regret or homesickness were so heavy he felt them like a knot in the pit of his stomach—he swept and tidied. He put things in their place. Joint in his pocket, braids behind his ears. Memory and longing a black gunpowder he tamped down the wide-bore barrel of his neck. Even here, living beneath an underpass with the rumbling traffic overhead and bits of metal, he didn’t know what, slivers of brake pad, oil-flecked grit, drifting down and settling in his hair, grinding between his teeth and covering his tent in a fine film of filth—even here, yes, he cleaned and swept.
Because that was what you did to keep the loneliness at bay, to keep at arm’s length the sense that you may have made a vital mistake somewhere, or perhaps it was your parents, or maybe it was just the world in general that had fucked everything up. Thoughts like these could not enter the swept half-moon he carved thrice daily in front of his tent. Thoughts like these had a certain regard for cleanliness, for industrious energy and purpose. Doing something, he had discovered, anything, however small, that contributed to your meaningfulness of self and surroundings—well, that was the trick. That was the trick to not feel like shit.
Victor heard his stomach growling and back behind him, where his camp sat in the gravel spread beneath the highway, the thick-throated rumble of the daily commute. Farther off, in the distance over the hill, that roar of voices faded and grew, came rolling through the slotted streets to rest in the salty air of the pier. It had a rhythm to it. Sounded like ocean swells crashing on a beach, volleys of cannon fire destroying some corporate citadel and, hearing that, man, he bent and laced his shoes, grinning like the devil.
His heart of hearts—it was a thing he sometimes imagined, when high, as a moon circling a lifeless planet; a satellite waiting transmission from the once bright surface where billions had lived and died, the history of their ruin written in twisted steel; ash drifting against the homes like a wet, blinding snow.
If he was being honest, or if he had been perhaps a little less tired, he could have said his heart was laced with anger, holey as Swiss cheese. His heart of hearts poisoned by a bitter, wounded hatred, a sickness of the soul. But he was too tired for that. Too tired to believe in any of that—the heart or the soul. Too tired to hate or care or rage, because how could you hate if you didn’t care, and he had cared too long already. He was burned out on it. He didn’t have a name for it—this feeling out beyond the orbit of the tiresome rage—and he didn’t have the time. His feet were growing restless. He’d already been here too long. Time to go; to go; to go.
He zipped his tent tight and dropped a little lock on the zip and then he was hoofing it up the hill in his white Jordans, his olive green jacket with the ruff-lined hood keeping him warm. Sludgy Seattle light painting the buildings around him gray-gold, reflecting bright off the broken windows of the warehouses to the east, the gray project towers to the north with laundry flapping on the balconies like flags of a tenement nation. But what was this? This street was dead. The shops shuttered, plywood boards nailed over their windows. He shook his head and bent and humped the pack up the hill.
By the time he turned the corner and hit the crowd he was sweating, and the sheer human multitude, the force of the compressed humanity, nearly knocked him over. There were people hollering from every corner, marching people of all shapes and sizes, all body types and hairdos, an assortment of clothing choices and fashion accessories to express their personalities, and goddamn, fuck the protests? No, no, no. His brown eyes blazed bright. God bless the protesters. How many were here? He didn’t know, but yeah, they were the revolutionary souls who were going to buy his weed. They were his ticket out. He did a little clap with the chant, nodding his head to catch the rhythm of the thing, and watched them spinning delirious in the street. Hippies in their Gore-Tex, punks in their sweaty denim, and holy crap, it seemed to Victor as he joined the surging crowd that they were popping out from every hole and door, waves of protesters sloshing in the streets, bright-eyed thousands appearing as if summoned. Pierced kids in army jackets squatting on a bench to pass a clove cigarette. Dreadlocked djinns dangling from the lampposts, cameras around their necks. And the entire motley crowd chanting, chanting and now singing, old and young, their voices raised to the cloudy sky as if song were the very root of being.
He didn’t know whether to stand or sit, to go streaking through the city with his hands on his head or to collapse in the street in openmouthed wonder. Because here they came, stomping into the dawn from their suburban warrens, from their gorgeous mansions that glittered fat on the Sound. Civil rights lawyers wearing combat boots. Radical teachers in sheepskin-lined jackets. He saw them come rising into the morning air, a chant on their lips:
WHAT DO WE WANT???
WHEN DO WE WANT IT???
What did that mean? Justice?
He looked at a blond girl in overalls, an African-type shawl looped atop her head. He looked at her angry blue eyes, her perfect white teeth, her gym-sculpted arm, naked to the cold, and he didn’t know what justice meant to her, to him, to anybody in this country. He saw them come rising from North Face tents gone swampy with sex; from the paint-splattered warehouse where they gathered to gossip and train; from the cellar of the church where they had sat in foldout chairs discussing what they knew of what they called the Third World and there was a look on their faces—all their sweet, round, high-fructose faces—that was hoping everything was more or less okay with the world, even though they knew it wasn’t, and Victor, looking at that look, he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Because here came the defenders of democracy, riding the ferry in from the islands. Climbing down from the haze of an interstate bus. Crossing the bridge in their Subarus, their aging Toyotas, their cheap American rolling junk, and Victor, bestowed with the unenviable gift of geography and sight, saw their merino wool scarves twisted at the neck, their T-shirts and flannels and fleeces, their backpacks and jeans, and he thought of the factories he had seen along the border in Mexico, the lines of women waiting for work to begin, the razor-wire fences behind which the things of the world were made, the smoke curling into the sky like a pencil drawing of a drowned woman’s hair.
How do you protest this?
Three topless girls went by crying “Death to the police state,” their breasts bouncing in the cold air, duct tape across their nipples. Victor almost expected to see families lining the sidewalks, mothers and fathers set up in beach chairs and blankets, children hoisted onto shoulders, crying “Daddy, Daddy, here come the beasts.” It was a painted carnival for the end of days, and on an impulse, just the weird out-of-body feeling of it, Victor turned to the guy next to him, a hefty guy in a blue jacket, and said, “Hey, man. You need any weed?”
“Do I need any what?”
On closer inspection, the guy seemed to be a union man, the bulk and size of him, the rusty air of his moonscape face, one of the guys who worked down at the docks or something. His face folded like an old jacket.
“Any weed. You need any weed?”
The guy looked to see was Victor kidding. He was walking and holding hands with his union buddies, or whatever, a great long line of them, bowling league buddies holding hands, which Victor thought was kind of weird.
“Trust me,” Victor said more loudly. “It’s great shit.”
The guy looking at him like he might be contagious.
“Kid,” the big man said.
“Get the fuck out of here.”
Victor slid his bandanna from his forehead, shook his damp braids, and felt the stuffy weight of their bodies shuffling by, their signs, their hope, their smell, not entirely unpleasant, of incense and baked-in sweat, and he was remembering and living and thinking and dying more or less all at the same time. It was 1999 in America, he had traveled the world for three years, looking for what he didn’t know, and now here he found himself: absolutely allergic to belief, nineteen years old, and totally alone.
John Henry stood in the crowd inhaling them through every pore, perfectly at rest, perfectly at peace. My people. They smelled of onion and cigarette and sex, the human animal musk of sixty beautiful human bodies beneath their beautiful blue tarps and he raised his arms to the sky and breathed them deep. Around him they marched and they danced; they chanted and they sang. He felt their voices buzzing in his chest. People linking arms with strangers they had never met, hand in hand with people whose homes they had never seen, and he closed his eyes and felt the power of what they were doing coiling around him, some force inexorably gathering around them here at the edge of the millennium, one month from the end of the American century.
Look at him there, this forty-four-year-old man in a handwoven cowboy hat and chunky black Medicare glasses, his red beard long and wiry like some mountain monk’s. This was a man with the days stitched into his skin. This was a man you could imagine in a dream of the Himalaya, high above the clouds where the granite falls away like glass and you turn a corner and there he is, spinning a prayer wheel. Not from the Himalaya, but from Detroit, Michigan. Holy man of the Rust Belt. Sacrament of iron and steel; blessed be these assembly lines; blessed be these tired hands. Look at his pierced ears and his crooked teeth. Look at his eyes shining behind those busted-up glasses, the frames more duct tape than plastic, but the repairs neatly done. Check him there among the densely packed bodies, feeling the heat and the human smell of them, a humid funk to spark the morning air, and know that if there was one place in the great, glorious dying world he wanted to be, this was it.
John Henry had at one time been a churchman, a storefront preacher, and, inevitably it now seemed, he had lost the church, but not the need, and here he was in the middle of it all, heart a broken clockspring in his chest, leading a chant.
AIN’T NO POWER LIKE
THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE
AND THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE
Their voices together a roaring wave careening down the alleys, cascading off the cordon of metro buses parked around the convention center and up through air vents of the Sheraton, voices reaching for the delegates hiding in their rooms on the upper floors. John Henry could see some of them gathered in the lobby of the Sheraton, two floors above the street, shadowed forms pressed to the floor-to-ceiling windows, hands on either side of their faces like kids at the aquarium watching the sharks make their dumb circles in the tank.
He saw the South Korean delegation with matching flags on their matching shoulder bags paused on the low wide steps of the Sheraton, standing there with newspapers over their heads for the rain and polite, puzzled smiles as if someone had just told them a joke that didn’t quite translate.
Here came a European-looking delegate in tasseled loafers. His hair was curly and white. His suit was gray and he was making notes in a leather-bound notebook, nodding and smiling as though he recognized something in the cityscape, like there was a shop that sold his favorite sweet, an indulgence he kept secret from his wife. An aide running after him with an opened umbrella.
AIN’T NO POWER LIKE
THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE
AND THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE
“Say what?!” cried John Henry.
The American dream was dead. All those promises now just cold ashes between his people’s chanting teeth, sitting heavy on their tongues.
Instead they said, “Sustainable agriculture.”
They said, “Global solidarity.”
They said, “How beautiful is a seed, a tender green stalk of life.”
They wore hooded sweatshirts peopled with homemade patches. They wore bandannas slashed outlaw-style across the mouth, a triangle from nose to chin, knotted at the neck. They ate bread and cabbage looted from dumpsters because it was a form of political protest and he loved each one of them enough to die for them, if it came to that, which it would not.
He stroked his beard and heard them say, “People are more important than profits.”
“People,” they said, “are more important than profits.”
“People. Are more important than profits.”
Their words had the quality of midnight prayer, deep from the depths of another sleepless night, as if the right words might call forth a future where they need march no more.
They said, “We’re going to shut those corporate motherfuckers down.”
John Henry heard their voices and knew this was no ordinary protest, this congregation in the streets. No, this was the new American religion. This desire which leapt continents. The longing of the heart to embrace a stranger and be unashamed.
They said, “A global nonviolent revolution.”
They said, “How beautiful and brave when a people rise for what is right.”
Six a.m. and he watched them swarming the streets of his city in a gauzy mausoleum light, a people’s army climbing from basement mattresses and garage apartments, the skyline of the city black-crowned and spooky at their back.
In their hooded sweatshirts and shin-high boots they looked like end-of-the-world penitents stretching into the dawn. Hip to the world’s saddest sins.
They said, “The future belongs to us.”
And maybe it did, but they looked so young, so young and fragile, and when the time came would they have courage—would they have the discipline to make it so?
Look with him at his people. This man who once preached from a pulpit, John Henry, who was wound up and weary with too much love, too much joy, too much rage. How many shelter cots that barely registered the man’s weight so light he was, the soft pillow of how many stone steps had cradled his head? John Henry, who had lost his church, look with him at his people. Look at his god made manifest in every form and shape of the broken world. Look with him at how they exit the church in an orderly fashion and tip their chins to the sky. Look at how they come from the darkness of their homes, backs stiff, stretching and tying the bandannas tight, checking one another’s faces for an idea of what violence this day might bring. Look with him at these wet American faces, ordinary and beautiful, and tell me you don’t feel more than a little bit afraid.
They wanted to tear down the borders, to make a leap into a kind of love that would be like living inside a new human skin, wanted to dream themselves into a life they did not yet know.
He heard them in the streets saying, “Another world is possible,” and beneath his ribs broken and healed and twice broken and healed and thrice broken and healed, he shuddered and thought, God help us. We are mad with hope. Here we come.
Officer Timothy Park knocked his riot stick against the stiff polycarbonate of his armored leg, producing a hefty sort of clack and whack, which, right this second, he found immensely satisfying as he sucked a black coffee spiked with fifteen sugars and watched the way they walked, heads high, arms swinging, and thought: Why in holy hell do these people look so happy?
Surely they knew they were going to lose?
Welders greeting plumbers with flung-open arms; scrawny old guys with crooked backs and the kind of crappy cardigan his dad used to wear while raking leaves, they were shaking hands with society ladies strung with pearls, and Park grimaced as they hugged and helloed, threw their arms around one another’s necks, a grainy mist falling. Hugging? Why were they hugging? The last time Park had hugged someone had been at a funeral.
Park was standing beside the department’s armored vehicle—affectionately known as the PeaceKeeper—with his sometime riding buddy, Julia. The PeaceKeeper was some civilian version of an armored Humvee—a great metal duck painted matte black with tiny rectangles for the driver’s windows like the slits in hilltop bunkers and down below four fat tires which meant they could roll wherever they pleased. There were two swinging doors on the back, a hatch to pop your head from the top, and running boards on each side, and look at Ju there kind of lazing around like it was a cover shoot on some tropical isle, one hand resting idly on the butt of her department-issue pepper spray, the other resting against the side of the vehicle where the letters were painted huge and white:
SEATTLE POLICE DEPARTMENT
Call her Miss July, even though it was, in fact, November and a probable riot situation. But Park didn’t mind the riot gear, didn’t mind watching Ju’s body absorb the rough vibration of the idling truck. Call her Miss November Riots if you wanted—she was as lovely as a parade rifle that the kids spin and twirl—and watching her was his reward for the frustration of having to police a protest march. Protecting an anarchist parade, that was the kind of world we had come to, but Ju was beautiful and tough and what was the word? Willowy? Park didn’t mind the show at all. She was like a video game knockout is what she was and ever since he’d moved to Seattle and joined the SPD he’d been trying to get her out for a drink. The guys in the precinct all laughed—everyone wanted to sleep with Ju; that Mayan, almost Asian look she had going with her bronze skin and dark almond-shaped eyes, that razor-sharp tongue that could cut you a new one in two languages, the long hair tucked high in a ponytail the color of coal-black tar. The thing Park liked was her eyes. He thought she had brown eyes so bright they could have been used as lights in some kind of emergency operating situation. If the need arose.
When Park told his buddy Baker about his crush, Baker looked at him crosswise. “That one?” he said. “She looks at you and you feel like a bug waiting for the shoe, but, you know, like, pleased about the situation.”
“Yeah, I know,” Park said, “but…”
“Like happy you’re gonna get squashed,” Baker said, laughing and walking to the vending machine. “Like you think it’s going to feel so good to get stomped.”
Park watched a group of young people taking over the intersection in front of him. They were a part of the crowd, and yet separate from it in a way he couldn’t define. One minute it seemed an undifferentiated mass, and then these young people materialized out of the chaos of bodies.
To his eye they were wearing stained and greasy jeans like some kind of junkie army risen from their mothers’ pullout couches, but there was an urgency to their movements, shuffling quickly like they were loonies five minutes escaped from the Harborview nuthouse on Ninth, and he sipped his coffee and laughed. There was a calm camaraderie, too, a sort of ease he recognized. As though they were an elite military unit—saying little, communicating instead out of seasoned memory, the easy gait of shared purpose.
He set his coffee on the ’Keeper and watched in total stunned astonishment as they sat down in a circle and then began locking themselves together with chains and PVC pipe.
Maybe as an officer of the law he should be doing something about that?
He turned to Julia and nodded toward the kids.
“I mean what’s going on here, Ju. Are they protesting the world?”
Julia—Ju—she looked at him in that way she had of looking at him. As if a thousand miles stood between her body and yours. Or so she wished. Aristocratic, was that the word?
“Are they protesting the world?” she said flatly. “That’s what you want to know?”
“Which one, Park?”
“Which one what?”
“Which world, pendejo? Yours or theirs?”
"A fantastic debut novel.... What is so enthralling about this novel is its syncopated riff of empathy as the perspective jumps around these participants--some peaceful, some violent, some determined, some incredulous... Yapa creates a fluid sense of the riot as it washes over the city. Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist ultimately does for WTO protests what Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night did for the 1967 March on the Pentagon, gathering that confrontation in competing visions of what happened and what it meant."--Ron Charles, Washington Post
"A symphony of a novel. Sunil Yapa inhabits the skins of characters vastly different to himself: a riot cop in Seattle, a punk activist, a disillusioned world traveler and a high-level diplomat, among others. Through it all Yapa showcases a raw and rare talent. This is a protest novel which finds, at its core, a deep and abiding regard for the music of what happens. In the contemporary tradition of Aleksandar Hemon and Phillipp Meyer, with echoes of Michael Ondaatje and Arundhati Roy, Yapa strives forward with a literary molotov cocktail to light up the dark."--Colum McCann, author of the National Book Award winner Let the Great World Spin
"Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is visceral, horrifying, and often heroic. But above all, this book is a full-throated chorus of voices on all sides--protestors, cops, delegates, politicians, and ramblers--as democracy runs headlong into the machinery of global power. Sunil Yapa has achieved something special, a story that is as tragic as it is relevant, as unflinching as it is humane."
—Smith Henderson, author of Fourth of July Creek
- "Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is a stunningly orchestrated, symphonic work of narrative power. This novel marshals all the vital forces of our existence--from the domestic to the political--and offers them to the reader with equal doses of compassion and beauty."—Dinaw Mengestu, author of All Our Names
- "There is nothing to say about Sunil Yapa's debut novel that its wonderful title doesn't already promise--its heart beats and bleeds on every page, in prose so raw it feels built of muscle and tissue and sinew and sweat. This book is delightfully, forcefully alive, and I feel more alive for having read it."—Eleanor Henderson, author of Ten Thousand Saints
- "An open-armed love letter to humanity, this glorious novel loops around a burning center encompassing the warmth of parents and the coolness of patriarchy. Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist will compel you to look and then to witness. 'We are mad with hope' the narrator says early on, and by the end the reader is too."—Tiphanie Yanique, author of Land of Love and Drowning
"Sunil Yapa's debut novel is possibly the most gorgeous book I've read in my entire life... Yapa's pattern of meandering, artful, full-bodied imagery, punctuated by zingy one-liners makes for a seriously addictive read... It's painful. It's gorgeous. I can't say this enough: read it."
- "A vital, powerful read, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is an absorbing, multi-faceted, acutely hopeful novel."—Patrick deWitt, author of Undermajordomo Minor and The Sisters Brothers
- "A great wrenching beautiful book."—Laline Paull, author of The Bees
- "Chilling...A memorable, pulse-pounding literary experience."—Publisher's Weekly
- "[A] gripping debut...Yapa is a skilled storyteller, revealing just enough about his characters and the direction of his plot to engage his readers, yet effectively building dramatic impact by withholding certain key details. In the style of Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, Yapa ties together seemingly disparate characters and narratives through a charged moment in history, showing how it still affects us all in different ways."—Booklist
- "Yapa's writing is visceral and unsparing. Noteworthy, capital-I Important and a ripping read, his novel will be on many "best" lists in 2016."—Library Journal (starred review)
- "In this beautifully written, kaleidoscopically shifting novel.... Yapa penetrates to the human connections and disconnections at play between the lines of history in the era of the global village."—Chicago Tribune
- "Explosive."—Entertainment Weekly
- "If you're looking for a novel that moves with heat this winter, look no further."—Flavorwire
- "The energy and sheer humanity of Sunil Yapa's debut will grab you, wrap you in, and won't let you go-and that's just the start of why you're going to love this. Seven characters narrate this charged book, which centers on a protest. It's so layered, you'll finish this wondering how Yapa pulled off what he did."—Bustle
- "It's not often that a novel takes a fraught event from the recent past, one that most of us only experienced in the flash of the cable news cycle or the static of print headlines, and imbues it with so much heart and soul that we do something we almost never do in the constant crush forward and faster-we pause and reconsider. That is the power of literature. Sunil Yapa's Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist does just this for the momentous protests of the 1999 World Trade Organization's (WTO).... Yapa does a heroic job of journeying into the heart of this complex set of events, illustrating how they grow out of and impact the character's lives. And while the heart may be the size of a fist, here it paradoxically seems to encompass the whole world and all of its citizens, who pulse with its every beat."—The Rumpus
- "[A] gripping, profoundly humane first novel.... An absolutely compelling read."—Bookpage
"Yapa's novel is a much-needed and refreshing pivot point. His novel makes a case for the validity of all opinions in a conflict the better part of two decades old. This rare quality of his work is a practice that many could benefit from in current conflicts, foreign and domestic."
"Sunil Yapa's voice and ambition leap off the page. Here is a writer to watch."
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
- "This furiously paced and contrapuntal literary tour-de-force makes use of multiple vantage points and benefits from a remarkably empathic sensibility on the part of its author.... With Yapa burrowing into the hearts of these characters, each distinct yet sufferers all, his already weighty story attains a level of profundity."—Miami Herald
- "Like magic, Yapa uses this handful of perspectives to create snapshots that allow the reader to imagine who else was there that day and what they were doing, thinking, and feeling...I can't imagine a better book to have kicked off my year in reading."—Bookriot
- "Fast-paced and unflinching.... As these characters encounter one another in a fog of tear gas and pepper spray, Yapa vividly evokes rage and compassion. Underlying the novel, and at once reinforced and rejected, is the chief's mantra: "Care too much and the world will kill you cold."—Dallas Morning News
- "Yapa's melding of fact and fiction, human frailty and geopolitics, is a genuine tour-de-force, and an exciting literary debut."—Seattle Times
- "Fast-paced and unflinching.... As these characters encounter one another in a fog of tear gas and pepper spray, Yapa vividly evokes rage and compassion. Underlying the novel, and at once reinforced and rejected, is the chief's mantra: "Care too much and the world will kill you cold."—New Yorker
- "A beautifully written book."—Entertainment Weekly
- "An achingly compassionate fiction debut."—O Magazine
"As electric a novel as I've ever read."
—Benjamin Percy, Esquire
- On Sale
- Jan 12, 2016
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Lee Boudreaux Books