The entirety of the novel takes place during the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle known as “The Battle in Seattle.” I was in my mid-20s at the time, and oddly, I only have the vaguest memory of this happening, so I’m especially grateful that Yapa was able to illuminate this event for me. It was like time traveling to a more optimistic (although naive) time.
This is a multi-perspective novel. I wouldn’t have thought to mention this if it hadn’t been done so brilliantly. I don’t normally enjoy stories with multiple perspectives for a couple of reasons. First, I feel like character depth is sacrificed because overall character development is spread too thin. Secondly, it’s just hard for me to get into a multi-perspective book because every time a new character is introduced, I feel I’m reading the introduction of a story over again. This did not happen at all with this book. Yapa kept me hooked because each character was fascinating from the very start. He also created an impressive amount of depth given the small space afforded each character.
Most importantly, this as a timely book. I see it as a microcosm that is representative of the macrocosm of today’s world.
I’m so glad that Yapa doesn’t leave out the perspective of a diplomat from Sri Lanka. We see what it is like to represent a tiny nation that has little to offer, but desperately wants to see his people benefit from global trade. Instead of just focusing on the protesters and police, it’s also a little bit about what these protests were all about.
Yapa has the points of view of various police officers. There is an emotionally scarred cop who breaks the law immediately, a cop who retired from the LAPD after the Rodney King riots and rationalizes police brutality as a necessary evil, to the chief of police who is at the mercy of politicians. From the POV of the chief, he writes, “Well the days of community policing were over. The world was a bottleful of sparkling darkness and cops the ones charged with keeping the cork in while the rich shook and shook.”
Yapa includes the points of view of various protesters. He focuses most on two. The first has committed a serious crime to protest the establishment, the second is a pot dealer who becomes a last minute fill-in for an organized human blockade. This second protester evolves from a directionless wanderer, so intent on his own pain that he can’t see the forest through the trees, to someone who can (maybe) see the world as it is, in a “let’s appreciate this gorgeous mess” kind of way. I appreciate the sentiment that chaos can lead to a better world, especially these days.
In the end, this change affords him the focus he’s been lacking in his wanderings which gives him all he’s been seeking. This includes the ability to connect to his father, who is the previously mentioned chief of police, and the purpose he needs to move forward in his life. Again, while the conflict is written as personal, I got the heavy impression that he is representative of those of us who are a product of the establishment, struggle with the world as it is, but feel powerless to do anything about it.