THE 1999 anti-World Trade Organization protests in the American city of Seattle triggered many books, including a confessional one by a top cop who led the merciless clampdown on the peaceful participants. Now, a new book—this time a work of fiction—has joined the ranks.
Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa traverses the centre of the event that shaped the struggle against globalisation. Yapa, an American whose mother is from Montana, US, and father from Sri Lanka, holds the hands of a few characters directly involved in the mammoth movement in his book. Seattle lad Victor is a 19-year-old rebel born to a black mother and a white father. Returning home in November 1999 after wandering around the Third World for three years, he suddenly finds himself in the middle of a lockdown.
Once the protests begin to unravel, characters are revealed in a cataclysmic turn of events. Victor meets ‘Kingfisher’, a leader of the movement disguised as a medic, and her lover and fellow leader John Henry, who foresees the impact of the protests on the world. There is also Timothy Park, a police officer, and his colleague Julia, a Guatemalan shaken by what is happening around her. Pitted against the protesters is Chief Bishop, Seattle’s head of police and, incidentally, Victor’s father.
Norm Stamper, the real-life cop who is the inspiration for the character of Chief Bishop, regretted the police action later and resigned from the force before writing the bestselling Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Exposé of the Dark Side of American Policing.
Caught between the protesters and the police in Yapa’s book is Dr Charles Wickramsinghe, a Sri Lankan minister determined to ink an agreement that would welcome his country into the façade of globalisation.
Seattle, the city of Jimi Hendrix, automobiles and aviation, serves as both ground zero and a viewing deck in Yapa’s book. The graphic account of the use of chemical agents by the police on the protesters goes hand-in-hand with an equally evocative yet less-described summary of life in poor countries around the world.
Victor’s reminiscences of his journey into Latin America’s poorest
corners come from the author’s own time spent in the Third World, including India.
Yapa and his band of protesters are not agitated by the accumulated wealth of the First World, but, in the words of leader John Henry, animated by the support for “the rights of a people to live in dignity, neither oppressed nor anesthetized”. As cars of all
sizes and shapes clutter the congested roads of poor countries today, Seattle, which launched the exports movement, exists as a ghost city, succumbing to the effects of the very globalisation it propounded.
In his first book, Yapa excels in describing the pain suffered by protesters because of the police crackdown. None of them fought the cops, taking the batons on their heads and tear gas pepper sprays in their eyes.
The violence left the police polarised, too, though in small measure. “I know that is the job. But you don’t have to love it so much,” says Julia to Park, as he goes after King. “I am so so sorry,” mumbles Chief Bishop, as he breaks bones one by one.
Faizal Khan is a freelancer