In this episode, Malayna and Stacy talk with Sunil Yapa, author of the novel Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist. Set in the midst of the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, his book squeezes global issues into a handful of passionate characters that took their stand at this historic event. And he’s Sri Lankan-American, like Malayna! We’ll explore how we can use our hearts, not as fists, but as points of connection as we work together to transform our world.
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.
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.)
Yapa’s father, originally from Sri Lanka (YAY!), 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.
Read about the WTO 1999, book discussion questions, and why Malayna thinks the terms “Caucasian” and “Mixed Race” are stupid!
WIKIPEDIA – WTO 1999
Protest activity surrounding the WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999, which was to be the launch of a new millennial round of trade negotiations, occurred on November 30, 1999 (nicknamed “N30” on similar lines to J18 and similar mobilizations), when the World Trade Organization (WTO) convened at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Seattle, Washington. The negotiations were quickly overshadowed by massive and controversial street protests outside the hotels and the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, in what became the second phase of the antiglobalization movement in the United States. The scale of the demonstrations—even the lowest estimates put the crowd at over 40,000—dwarfed any previous demonstration in the United States against a world meeting of any of the organizations generally associated with economic globalization (such as the WTO, the International Monetary Fund, or the World Bank). The events are sometimes referred to as the Battle of Seattle or the Battle in Seattle
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (Yapa) – Discussion Questions
- 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?
- 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 Charles learn about the power of belief in individual action? Can an individual make a difference?
8. Do you find the presence of Charles 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.)
I wrote to them to correct # 7 and 8 – to
Victor, not Charles.
From Sunil Yapa.com
March 31. Los Angeles, CA AWP Then We Came to the End (Marie Mockett, Heidi Durrow, Hasanthika Sirisena, Allison Devers, Sunil Yapa) Los Angeles Convention Center Room 515 A 9am
April 1. Los Angeles, CA AWP The New Globalism (Marie Mockett, Sunil Yapa, Peter Mountford, Marlon James) Los Angeles Convention Center Room 502 B, Meeting Room Level 1:30 pm to 2:45 pm
Caucasian – Merriam Webster
- : of or relating to the Caucasus or its inhabitants
- 2 : of, constituting, or characteristic of a race of humankind native to Europe, North Africa, and southwest Asia and classified according to physical features —used especially in referring to persons of European descent having usually light skin pigmentation
Caucasian – Wikipedia
The Caucasian race (also Caucasoid; or occasionally Europid) is a grouping of human beings historically regarded as a biological taxon, including some or all of the populations of Europe, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Western Asia, Central Asia and South Asia. The term has been used in biological anthropology for many people from these regions, without regard necessarily to skin tone. First introduced in early racial science and anthropometry, the term was formerly used to denote one of the three purported major races (Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid) of humankind. Although its validity and utility are disputed by many anthropologists, Caucasoid as a biological classification remains in limited use in forensic anthropology.
Why Are White People Called Caucasian?
In response to assumptions that the Boston bombing suspects were of Arab or Middle Eastern descent (and the use of a lot of rude terms for people from that part of the world), brilliant Twitter account @YesYoureRacist pointed out that the suspects were the textbook definition of white guys:
ATTENTION, RACISTS: The Boston bombing suspects are from the actual Caucasus region, meaning they *literally could not be more Caucasian*
It goes back to German anthropologist Friedrich Blumenbach. In his work in the late 1700s and early 1800s, Blumenbach divided Homo sapiens into five distinct races based on their physical characteristics. There was the Mongolian, or “yellow,” race, the red American race, the brown Malayan race, the black Ethiopian race, and the white Caucasian race.
“Blumenbach wrote forcefully of the kindredness of the human races…he opposed the stress on racial hierarchies of worth by more conservative colleagues in his own university and elsewhere in Europe,” historian Nell Irvin Painter writes. “Throughout his work, and especially in the definitive 1795 edition of De generis humani varietate nativa (On the Natural Variety of Mankind), Blumenbach rejected racial hierarchy and emphasized the unity of mankind.”
Has ‘Caucasian’ Lost Its Meaning? By SHAILA DEWAN
JULY 6, 2013
As a racial classification, the term Caucasian has many flaws, dating as it does from a time when the study of race was based on skull measurements and travel diaries. It has long been entirely unmoored from its geographical reference point, the Caucasus region. Its equivalents from that era are obsolete — nobody refers to Asians as “Mongolian” or blacks as “Negroid.”
The use of Caucasian to mean white was popularized in the late 18th century by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a German anthropologi
st, who decreed that it encompassed Europeans and the inhabitants of a region reaching from the Obi River in Russia to the Ganges to the Caspian Sea, plus northern Africans. He chose it because the Caucasus was home to “the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgians,” and because among his collection of 245 human skulls, the Georgian one was his favorite wrote Nell Irvin Painter, a historian who explored the term’s origins in her book “The History of White People.”
In 1889, the editors of the original Oxford English Dictionary noted that the term Caucasian had been “practically discarded.” But they spoke too soon. Blumenbach’s authority had given the word a pseudoscientific sheen that preserved its appeal. Even now, the word gives discussions of race a weird technocratic gravitas, as when the police insist that you step out of your “vehicle” instead of your car.
There is another reason to use it, said Jennifer L. Hochschild, a professor of government and African-American studies at Harvard. “The court, or some clever clerk, doesn’t really want to use the word white in part because roughly half of Hispanics consider themselves white.” She added, “White turns out to be a much more ambiguous term now than we used to think it was.”
There are a number of terms that refer to various degrees of blackness, both current and out of favor: African-American, mulatto, Negro, colored, octaroon. There are not a lot of options for whites. In Texas, they say Anglo.
IN the South, I was often asked about my ethnic origins, and I had a ready answer. “My father is from India,” I would recite, phrasing it in such a way as to avoid being mistaken for an American Indian. “And my mom is white.” Almost invariably, if I was speaking to black people, they would nod with understanding. If I was speaking to white people, I would get a puzzled look. “What kind of white?” they would ask. Only when I explained the Norwegian, Scottish and German mix of my ancestry would I get the nod.
I theorized that this was because blacks understood “white” as a category, both historical and contemporary — a coherent group that wielded power and excluded others. Whites, I believed, were less comfortable with that notion.
But Matthew Pratt Guterl, the author of “The Color of Race in America, 1900-1940,” had a different take. “They’re trying to trace your genealogy and figure out what your qualities are,” he said. “They’re looking in your face, they’re looking in the slope of your nose, the shape of your brow. There’s an effort to discern the truth of the matter, because all whitenesses are not equal.” In other words, they weren’t rejecting the category, they were policing its boundaries.