I’m over at the Huffington Post with a review of Sunil Yapa’s new novel, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist. You can read the review here, the opening below:
In Colum McCann’s latest book, Thirteen Ways of Looking (Random House, 2015), a young soldier looks out over the Kerengal valley in Afghanistan, minding an outpost as the New Year dawns. The story carries echoes of Italo Calvino’s masterpiece, If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler (1979), where half the book is about a reader attempting to read the title story; in McCann’s version, the story is about an author attempting to write a story. It is brilliantly done, with all the questions that could be asked of a writer attempting to make a leap of imagination into unfamiliar–yet politically loaded–territory, being asked and answered by the writer himself. For example, this: “(Are there any female engagement teams in the Kerengal Valley?) (Is there even such a thing as a Browning M-57?)” Acknowledging a lack of familiarity is one way to fictionalize a place (there is a Korangal Valley in North Eastern Afghanistan), and a possible event.
I read the McCann in the wake of finishing his student, Sunil Yapa’s, Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size of a Fist, (Lee Boudreaux Books, 2016), a book inspired by the 1999 demonstrations against the meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in America’s single socialist-leaning city, Seattle. McCann’s gorgeous blurb on the cover (he calls the book “a literary molotov cocktail to light up the dark”), is justified: Yapa makes an important contribution toward documenting this moment in the overall history of activism in the United States, a service that it seems only literature is able to provide for this country. As pointed out in the closing pages of the novel itself, and in the many glowing reviews that have followed the publication of the novel–and in light of the undeniable energy of the prose, surely those are deserved– the WTO protests were not adequately covered in the media. This is no great surprise, of course, to those brave thousands who, inspired by the anti-austerity protests in Spain and initiated by the Canadian anti-consumerist group, Adbusters, occupied Zucotti Park in 2011. That is a tale still waiting to be written, though Molly Crabapple, it’s celebrated cartoon archivist has addressed some of it in her debut, Drawing Blood (Harper Collins, 2015).
Yet to write not of an imagined place and imagined events but rather a real place and an historic event, as McCann did in his masterpiece Transatlantic (2013) for instance, raises the stakes for any writer. Yapa’s novel chronicles the jittery political awakening of no fewer than seven major characters, six of whom represent the face of America’s difficulties and political upheavals: mixed-race marriages (Bishop, Chief of Police), the weather underground (Kingfisher, circa Earth Liberation Front), cultural appropriation (John Henry, circa Jim-Crow), race-riots (the Guatemalan Ju, circa Rodney King), police brutality and domestic terrorism (Officer Park, circa Oklahoma City), serial escapism (Victor, the pot-smoking accidental activist), and one singular representative of the “globe” in globalization, Charles Wickamasinghe, a well-meaning, earnest, mostly clueless, Sri Lankan Deputy Minister of Finance and Planning.