A review by Nalini Haynes
It’s 1999. Crowds have gathered to protest the World Trade Organization’s meeting in Seattle, protesting against how the WTO disadvantages impoverished countries.
Victor, a runaway who has travelled the world to find himself, ponders life while sweeping the space in front of his tent. Using a toothbrush, he cleans his white shoes then wanders into downtown Seattle to sell some dope to pay for food.
Dr Wickramsinghe heads into Seattle for a meeting with President Bill Clinton in the hopes that the USA will be the fiftieth and final country supporting Sri Lanka’s entry into the WTO. Little does he realize what is in store for him — or how they will bribe him to sell out his country. (Is this kind of deal legit? Is this why Australia’s politicians have sold the people out?)
Bishop is the police chief in Seattle, striving to maintain the safety of his city, his people. He rejected help from the National Guard and others, believing in Seattle’s people and common decency to maintain law and order.
King is a lifelong political agitator who fears the past is catching up to her.
We experience the Seattle riots from the points of view of 3 police officers and 3 protestors as well as intermissions featuring Dr Wickramsinghe, all told in close third person.
Never before have I read a literary novel that kept me spellbound, not just with superlative prose (“wearing a smile like a clip-on tie”) but also the plot. Tension builds from the first page like a thriller inciting the reader to keep turning the pages. I was interrupted shortly after I started reading and I couldn’t wait to pick it up again.
Based in historical fact, Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of A Fist teaches a little about the riots, the World Trade Organization and international politics much like Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing and The Newsroom. However, a throwaway comment about the Tamil Tigers being ‘born’ in 1983 — an error or intentional blurring of facts — detracts from the credibility of the overall novel. How much else is fiction? Can we take the Sorkin-esque parts at face value?
Victor is black, with all the problems — including police harassment — that accompanies that coloring in the United States although his loving-but-flawed police-officer (step)father is white.
Some of the point-of-view characters are women. Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of A Fist doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test — women don’t talk to women that I recall — but the women each have motivations and back stories giving them agency. To their detriment, the two women are a love interest and an object of desire respectively; the latter was icky as was her response to the man in question. Believable but unnecessary and disappointing.
Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of A Fist is one part Aaron Sorkin, two parts literature and two parts thriller. I highly recommend this novel to a diverse readership but especially to every writer; it’s a masterclass in metaphor and simile.
Short reviews are often good reviews: my difficulty in finding words is because I want you to read the book instead of feeling you’ve read enough spoilers in my review. I also want to press this book upon all the intelligent thoughtful people I know and every single writer. I will re-read this book after I’ve finished my novel’s first draft and before I enter that first editing/rewriting phase in order to get my head into the descriptive prose headspace.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Format: paperback, 304 pages
Imprint: Little, Brown (Hachette)