I always find it fascinating to read a novel about a piece of history I knew little about before delving into the story. And despite the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organisation protests taking place in very recent history, this was one such an occasion where my knowledge was shamefully lacking and the book served as an eyeopener to the terrible things that took place that day so close before the start of the new millennium. Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist was a very uncomfortable read at times, but also a hugely powerful one – and it needed telling.
On 30 November 1999 tens of thousands of people aim to shut down the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle through a peaceful protest in the streets surrounding the convention centre and the hotels where the international delegates are staying. Taking control of key intersections they want to make it impossible for anyone to actually attend the meetings. But as the Chief of Police is becoming more and more desperate to get the people off his streets, and a power struggle takes place between people on both sides of the protest, what started out as non-violent approach to getting a message across descends into a horrific collision of desperate people going to extremes to gain the upper hand.
At the heart of the conflict are a homeless teenager by the name of Victor, who becomes part of the protests almost by accident; King and John Henry, two of the protesters Victor becomes acquainted with; Dr Charles Wickramsinghe, the Minister of Sri Lanka who is desperate to make his meeting even if it means wading through thousands of protesters to the convention centre; and the Chief of Police who is interlinked with one of the protesters in a shocking way. The events of the day unfold through their various perspectives, first separately and eventually coming together at the very centre of the conflict in a harrowing way.
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is a very different novel from what I usually pick up, but drawn by the stunning cover art on the UK edition and recommendations from publishing people whose opinions I value greatly, I was intrigued and interested to read it. And though after turning the final page I can't say that I enjoyed reading this book, I am very glad that I read it as it was very enlightening and had a very powerful story at its core. The different voices running throughout came together impeccably with the meticulous research into the climax of the events on that day in Seattle in 1999, creating a realistic, almost investigative, backdrop to some of the horrors that unfolded.
And horrific they were indeed. I found the novel to be very unsettling, not only because of the thought-provoking story behind the protests but also because author Sunil Yapa described some of the actions the police took to get the protesters off the street in sickening detail. This added to the powerful realistic feel of the story but it also made it difficult for me to continue on reading on more than one occasion, especially during the more graphic scenes towards the end. I persevered as I was so enthralled by the book that I couldn't not finish reading it, but I may have read some of the scenes with my hand half covering my eyes and my heart in my throat.
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is not a book for the fainthearted. A very uncomfortable read at times, it doesn't gloss over the horrific details revealing to what lengths the police in Seattle went to claim back their streets during the WTO protests. But seeing the events unfold through the eyes of all sides – protesters, police and delegates – it is also a hugely enlightening and powerful novel, and one that tells an incredibly important story.
Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is published by Little, Brown and you can buy a copy from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.