Sunil Yapa’s debut novel takes place across a single day: the day of the explosive 1999 protest-cum-riot that shut down the World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle.
You might expect it then to be fast-paced and action-packed, a gut punch of violence and colliding ideologies. Sadly, it’s a bit of a slog.
The chief problem is the characters around which Yapa attempts to build some human drama. With the exception of the likeable elderly Sri Lankan diplomat Charles, who is desperately trying to get to a meeting with Bill Clinton when the violence erupts, the players aren’t very interesting. Yapa has attempted to create rich back stories for them but they just don’t feel like real people – rather ciphers designed to fit archetypes of the conflict: the hippy activist girl, the stoner, the good cop and the bad cop.
Some of the writing is excellent, some of it very clunky: likwise, the political insights range between sophisticated and painfully undergraduate. But the real problem is the action has no kinetic power – it simply doesn’t evoke the fear or chaos or confusion of a riot. It has a languid quality that makes what should be exciting just plain boring.
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