Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (Yapa)

Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist 
Sunil Yapa, 2016
Little, Brown and Co.
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780316386531

An electrifying debut novel set amid the heated conflict of Seattle's 1999 WTO protests.

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.

From the proceeds of selling weed, he plans to buy a plane ticket and leave Seattle forever. But it quickly becomes clear that the history-making 50,000 anti-globalization protestoers—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.

In this raw and breathtaking novel, Yapa marries a deep rage with a deep humanity. In doing so he casts an unflinching eye on the nature and limits of compassion, and the heartbreaking difference between what is right and what is possible. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1980 ?
Raised—State College, Pennsylvania, USA
Education—B.A., Pennsylvania State University; M.F.A., Hunter College
Awards—Hyphen Asian American Short Story Contest
Currently—lives in Woodstock, New York

Sunil Yapa is a Sri Lankan-American fiction writer and novelist. His debut novel Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist was published in 2016.

Yapa's father, originally from Sri Lanka, is a retired professor of Geography at Penn State University. His mother is an American from Montana. Most of Yapa's youth was spent in State College, the home of Penn State. He graduated from the university in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economic Geography (where he won the 2002 E.W. Miller Award for excellence in writing in the discipline). For the next several years, he attempted to follow his father's path in becoming an academic geographer, but eventually he heeded his own desire, which had always been to write fiction.

In 2008 he entered Hunter College in New York City and in 2010 earned his Master's in Fine Arts. At Hunter he studied with two-time Booker Prize winning novelist Peter Carey, Nathan Englander, Claire Messud and 2009 National Book Award winner Colum McCann.

During his MFA studies, Yapa received the Alumni Scholarship & Welfare Fund Fellowship in 2008-2010—a grant given only to one MFA fiction student once every three years. He was also selected—twice—as a Hertog Fellow, working as a research fellow and research assistant to novelist Ben Marcus and then Zadie Smith.

Yapa also received scholarships to numerous writing programs, including the Norman Mailer Writers' Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, among others.

From Fall 2009 to Spring 2010, he was a Fiction Intern for Esquire magazine.

Short Stories
Yapa won the 2010 Hyphen Asian American Short Story Contest for his short story, "Pilgrims (What is Lost and You Cannot Regain)." The story was published in the Fall 2010 issue of Hyphen, Issue No. 21.

Another short fiction piece appeared in Pindeldyboz: Stories that Defy Classification—"A Short Incident Involving a Boy, a Girl, Pigeons, and an Old Man with Advice."

Yapa's 2016 debut novel, Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, was widely reviewed and praised. An excerpt from the novel won second prize (and first prize in fiction) in The Miriam Weinberg Richter Memorial Award, a Hunter College writing competition judged by 2009 Impac Dublin winner Michael Thomas. (Adapted from Wikipedia and a January, 2016, BookPage interview. Retrieved 2/8/2016.)

Book Reviews
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

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

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

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 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.
Denver Post

Sunil Yapa's voice and ambition leap off the page. Here is a writer to watch.
Minneapolis Star Tribune

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

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.

[C]hilling.... Yapa shows great skill in...[building] a combustible environment, offering brief glimpses of the past to round out each character....[T]he author’s firm grasp of his story loosens a bit. But by the novel’s end, Yapa regains his stride.... [A] memorable, pulse-pounding literary experience.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) In the years after Kent State and Rodney King but before the Black Lives Matter movement, the Battle of Seattle stands out as an example of poorly planned police response to public protest, and Yapa shines a blinding Maglite on the scene.... Yapa's writing is visceral and unsparing. Noteworthy, capital-I Important and a ripping read. —Christine Perkins, Whatcom Cty. Lib. Syst., Bellingham, WA
Library Journal

[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.

Yapa's grasp of the pre-9/11 global diaspora is sound, and he's knowledgeable about the tactics that both protesters and law enforcement use against each other. But lacking much in the way of deep characterization...the novel is largely a parade of pat sentiments and facile contradictions.... The genre deserves a better revival effort than this.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, please use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for Your Muscle Is the Size of a Fist … then take off on your own:

Also, consider these LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist...and then take off on your own:

1. Talk about the characters. Do you see any "villains" or merely flawed individuals with complicated past? Which characters do you most sympathize with? Which ones are you least in sympathy with?

2. What are the individual, or personal, motivations for some of the protesters in attending the rally?

3. Discuss collective reasons for protesting the World Trade Organization meeting. What is the overall purpose of the protests?

4. In a BookPage interview, Yapa has said...

I...wanted readers to experience the politics and economics of IMF deals and World Bank loans, structural adjustments and austerity programs. All that stuff is very academic and kind of boring.

Does Yapa bring those esoteric, remote subjects to life in his book as he'd hoped to do? Does he put a human face on the issues?

5. At the heart of the protest, and the heart of the book, is the question, "what kind of a world do we want?" How do the characters attempt to answer that question? How do you answer it?

6. At what point does crowd psychology—the emotional impact of chanting, of linking arms, the exhilaration of togetherness—take over? What about the police, those charged with maintaining public order and safety? When does their fear and anger get out of hand? At what point do they overstep the bounds of rational behavior?

7. What does 19-year-old Victor learn about the power of belief in individual action? Can an individual make a difference?

8. Do you find the presence of Victor as the estranged stepson of Police Chief Bishop to be necessary to the development of the story...or does it feel like a gimmick?

9. Talk about the significance of the title. How does it relate to the storyline and characters?

(Questions issued by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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