Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist

Do you remember what significant event happened on Nov. 30, 1999?

The World Trade Organization protests, which rocked Seattle that day, shocked the world. In many ways, they served as a precursor of what was to come: Wall Street protests, the Occupy Movement, anger against Wall Street, and massive climate change rallies.

This dramatic, fast-paced novel shows you how thie WTO protest felt from the perspectives of protesters, the police and mayor, and one delegate from Sri Lanka whose country’s future hung in the balance.

The protesters were mostly young, and trained in nonviolence. But alas, the cops were ill-prepared and vastly outnumbered and reacted with fear and brutality. The police included a woman from Guatemala who’d worked for the LA Police during the Rodney King fiasco, another who had been severely scarred by the Oklahoma bombing, and Seattle’s Chief of Police himself, a man who preferred no conflict and whose careful planning was torn aside in the torrent of history.

Providing terrific counterpoint to Police Chief Bishop is his son, Victor, a wanderer who’d just returned to the Pacific Northwest after exploring the world. Because his father had made a bonfire of his dead mother's books, Victor and his father had become estranged.

Sunil’s writing is visceral, fast-paced, and truly involving. He jumps from viewpoint to viewpoint, capturing and filling out the same scenes from vastly different points of view. Reading this lyrical, action-packed book in many voices, you feel as if though you are truly experiencing the demonstration in real time.

There’s beautiful King, a medic, fiercely political, committed to non-violence but alas with a temper that makes following her beliefs nearly impossible. Plus, violence in her past haunts her and makes her choices in the present risky and foolhardy.

Then there is Victor, who accidentally lands in the middle of the protest, planning to sell weed, or just pass through downtown but stopped by these earnest young people and drawn deeply into their cause.

The reader confronts the confusion, exhaustion, disbelief and finally slow realization of what is happening. The trade minister first believes the protest will end, his meetings will begin, and all will be well, but soon he himself is attacked and arrested. 

All the while, danger, hope, anger, bewilderment, resistance and brutality fill the air. Based on audio recordings of the actual protests and journalistic accounts, Sunil's novel captures that vivid day in absorbing prose.

A book with the same type of kinetic energy covering international issues and poverty is Mohsin Hamid's How to Get Filty Rich in Rising Asia.