The heroic story of Pussy Riot, who resurrected the power of truth in a society built on lies
From National Book Award winner Masha Gessen, the heroic story of Pussy Riot, who resurrected the power of truth in a society built on lies.
On February 21, 2012, five young women entered the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. In neon-colored dresses, tights, and balaclavas, they performed a "punk prayer" beseeching the "Mother of God" to "get rid of Putin." They were quickly shut down by security, and in the weeks and months that followed, three of the women were arrested and tried, and two were sentenced to a remote prison colony. But the incident captured international headlines, and footage of it went viral. People across the globe recognized not only a fierce act of political confrontation but also an inspired work of art that, in a time and place saturated with lies, found a new way to speak the truth.
Masha Gessen's riveting account tells how such a phenomenon came about. Drawing on her exclusive, extensive access to the members of Pussy Riot and their families and associates, she reconstructs the fascinating personal journeys that transformed a group of young women into artists with a shared vision, gave them the courage and imagination to express it unforgettably, and endowed them with the strength to endure the devastating loneliness and isolation that have been the price of their triumph.
Praise for WORDS WILL BREAK CEMENT: THE PASSION OF PUSSY RIOT
Named a Best Book of 2014 by NPR and The Guardian
"Urgent ... damning ... Much here will be new to the American reader. All of it is infuriating." -Alexander Nazaryan, The New York Times
"Remarkable...Masha Gessen [is] one of the most important activists and journalists Russia has known in a generation... disquieting, moving, and closely reported." -David Remnick, The New Yorker
"Simply put, this is the best, most urgent book I've read about art this year. Through rigorous research and furiously fine storytelling, Masha Gessen places the band's founding members unflinchingly into context, revealing the worlds they move between (of Russian activists, intellectuals and prisoners) and reminding us that art really can change the world - if you're an artist with the guts to try." -NPR
"The fullest account so far of the Pussy Riot story... A moving object lesson in the power of art - perhaps especially messy and exuberant art - to rise above repression and have the last, cement-breaking word." -Sara Marcus, Los Angeles Times
"Valuable for its insights into the modern cultural history of Russia, with all its idealistic muddles, dead-ends and false starts ... ideal for those curious about the country behind the Games." -The Economist
"What makes someone into a dissident? Why do some people give up everything - home, family, job - to embark on a career of protest? ... Gessen set out to answer this question ... in this excellent short account." -The Washington Post
"A compulsively readable book that explains in unflinching terms the tragedy that is modern Russia...Words Will Break Cement is an instant classic, destined to take its place with Solzhenitsyn's writings about the Gulag... one comes away...marveling at the courage of the Pussy Riot members making a stand against tyranny while demonstrating the willingness to pay a steep price" -New York Journal of Books
"Riveting... [Gessen] is a sharp observer of people and events, and she tells Pussy Riot's story in a lively style that is somehow casual, precise, and powerful all at once. She has written a terrific book, a compelling story of three creative women who courageously attacked a repressive regime by disrupting the spectacle of its propaganda." -The Rumpus
"The significance of Words Will Break Cement...is its demonstration that Pussy Riot's rambunctious confrontations with the authorities are the result of several years of growing frustration with Putin's rule...The genius of Pussy Riot...has been to employ guerilla street theater and a sense of humor along with unbridled profanity-all the better to skewer the pretensions of power and privilege Putin insists are his due...Words Will Break Cement makes clear that Pussy Riot is more than just a small group of disorderly anarchists." -New York Times Book Review
"Masha Gessen's history of founding Pussy Riot members Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich provides some crucial context for understanding the motives and means of the group...Gessen's account helpfully highlights the lineage of art and protest that gave rise to Pussy Riot.. Pussy Riot is what art endangered looks like; their songs are salvos; their hits are strikes." --Boston Globe
"[A] fascinating insider account ... As Russia waves sabers at the Ukraine and considers a new cultural policy that explicitly rejects multiculturalism and tolerance, the young women of Pussy Riot increasingly seem not like radicals but prophets. ... Vivid and empathic." -Seattle Times
"A compelling and eloquent account of current events." -The Christian Science Monitor
"Gessen offers a lively and sympathetic portrait of the three women at the center of the storm... keenly observed and often moving." - The Guardian
"[An] angry, clear and intimate look at the women behind Pussy Riot." - The Sunday Times
"Compelling and highly readable. It's an artist biography, a medi
"It is worth noting," Nadya said, lecturing at a conference, "that punk feminist art is being produced in Russia today. Here is an example," she continued, improvising. "The Pisya Riot collective works in a great variety of genres, including both visual and musical compositions."
Pisya is a kid's word for genitals of either sex; it is most like "wee-wee" or "pee-pee."
Being a fictional group, Pisya Riot could not write its own music. Neither of the real-life members of the phantom group could; Nadya had taken music lessons as a child and had not done well, and Kat had no musical background. So they borrowed a track from the British punk group Cockney Rejects and used a handheld Dictaphone to record their lyrics over the sampling:
You are sick and tired of stinky socks,
Your daddy's stinky socks.
Your entire life will be stinky socks.
Your mother is all in dirty dishes,
Stinky food remains in dirty dishes.
Using refried chicken to wash the floor,
Your mother lives in a prison.
In prison she's washing pots like a sucker.
No freedom to be had in prison.
Life from hell where man is the master.
Come out in the street and free the women!
Suck on your own stinky socks,
Don't forget to scratch your ass while you're at it,
Burp, spit, drink, shit,
While we happily become lesbians!
Envy your own stupid penis
Or your drinking buddy's huge dick,
Or the guy on TV's huge dick,
While shit piles up and rises to the ceiling.
Become a feminist, become a feminist
Peace to the world and death to the men.
Become a feminist, kill the sexist!
Kill the sexist and wash off his blood.
Become a feminist, kill the sexist!
Kill the sexist and wash off his blood.
They found they liked being Pisya Riot. Maybe they even really wanted to be Pisya Riot. To become a punk rock group, though, they would need musicians. They thought of N, a woman Nadya's age who had come to Voina, an art group to which Nadya and her husband, Petya, had belonged. Nadya sought her out. N found Nadya changed: "In Voina, she had been this chubby-cheeked child, and now her cheeks had thinned and her voice took on a certainty. She had chosen her issues, and she may even have chosen them at random, but now she was serious and her topics were LGBT and feminism. And the choice had changed her: she no longer saw herself as an appendage to Petya and [fellow Voina member] Vorotnikov, even if she had once been a willing appendage. It had still limited her. When you are with someone, you are not flying through the cosmos, because your soul always has its home in another person-you may need it sometimes, but it is limiting and it keeps you from taking flight. Nadya got this at some point and took flight." Pisya Riot, on the other hand, seemed to N almost pure silliness, but she envied whatever it was Nadya felt. She took on the music.
They would need other participants too, but that did not seem like a big issue; what they had in mind could be done by three or five or seven or eleven people, and there were friends and students to be recruited. They also needed a stage. At first, playgrounds, with their platforms and slides, looked pretty good. They had recorded "Kill the Sexist" at a playground. It was raining. It was also night time, which meant there were no children at the playground, but there were beer-drinking and cigarette-smoking young people, who grew concerned when they heard young women screaming their heads off about stinky socks.
They said, "What happened? Did someone hurt you? Do you need help? "
Nadya and Kat had said, "Don't worry, we are just making a record." But now that they were planning on making videos, they needed a different stage, something more spectacular. One day, as they got off the Metro, they spotted it: some stations had towers made of scaffolding, with platforms at the very top, for changing light bulbs or painting ceilings, or performing punk rock, perhaps. Moscow Metro stati
The heroic story of Pussy Riot, who resurrected the power of truth in a society built on lies.