Published: 6 February 2014
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 320 pages
Words Will Break Cement
The Passion of Pussy Riot
On February 21st 2012, five members of an obscure feminist post-punk collective called Pussy Riot staged a performance in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Dressed in their trademark brightly coloured dresses and balaclavas, the women performed their song 'Punk Prayer - Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!' in front of the altar. The performance lasted only 40 seconds but it resulted in two-year prison sentences for three of the performers - and has turned Pussy Riot into one of the most well-known and important protest movements of the last five years.
This necessary and timely book is an account of the Pussy Riot protest, the ensuing global support movement, and the tangled and controversial trial of the band members. It explores the status of dissent in Russia, the roots of the group and their adoption - or appropriation - by wider collectives, feminist groups and music icons. Masha Gessen has unique access to the band and those closest to them. Her unrivalled understanding of the Russian protest movement makes her the ideal writer to document and explain the rage, the beauty and the phenomenon that is Pussy Riot.
‘Gessen's sharp pen draws a caustic picture of the show trials in the summer of 2012 [and] prison correspondence provides a vivid picture of the continuing awfulness of the Russian penal system... Valuable’
‘Thorough... Much here will be new to the reader. All of it is infuriating’
‘[It] is written in a dry, raised-eyebrow deadpan, which allows post-Soviet repression to indict itself and adeptly captures the bluster and headiness of activist idealism.... Moving’
‘Lively and sympathetic... A vivid account of the three women's arrest and then the harrowing absurdity of their trial that summer... Keenly observed and often moving’ Tony Wood
‘Powerful... this is a hotly anticipated book by one of Russia's most influential opposition journalists. It's a pacy telling of what is an extraordinary story’ Carole Cadwalladr
‘[An] angry, clear and intimate look at the women behind Pussy Riot. Gessen's portraits are touching and a little sad’ Ben Judah
‘A fine, full, deeply sympathetic portrait of a particular kind of courage, a punk dissidence that is at once frail and mighty’ John Lloyd
‘Gessen pulls together a psychological portrait of the three ring-leaders’ Arifa Akbar
‘Gripping... a lucid account of the history of the group and their aims’ Andrzej Lukowski
‘Gessen's clinical and thorough depiction of Pussy Riot is as personal as it is political’ Una Mullally
‘Vividly told’ Maria Alekhina
‘You really need to read this in-depth look at what it means be young, fearless and angry in the new Russia’
‘Powerful... This is scrupulous and sensitive journalism’ AD Miller
‘A solid piece of journalism... It reveals [Pussy Riot] as clever, funny, brave and idealistic. And it reveals Russia as a country still held back by a giant anchor dug into its Soviet past’ Giles Whittel
‘Immensely readable... It brilliantly traces the evolution of Pussy Riot’ Angus Roxburgh
‘Gessen makes a forceful case for Pussy Riot... As a Russian-American steeped in the same ideas that inspired Pussy Riot, [she] is a useful guide’ Daniel Trilling
‘A powerful indictment of the return to Soviet-era tactics to silence dissent... Enlightening [and] poignant’ Lucy Popescu
‘[This] offers an engaging and thoughtful exegesis of the events and personalities behind Pussy Riot. It is a lively addition to the canon of Russian prison literature. Gessen presents a scathing portrait of Putin-era judicial system’ Fernanda Eberstadt
In her latest book Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot, celebrated Russian-American investigative journalist, author and LGBTQI rights activist Masha Gessen explores the status of dissent in Russia and the far-reaching impact of feminist collective Pussy Riot's 40 second performance in 2012. She is also an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and accused him of promoting a corrupt regime in her book The Man without a Face.
Join English PEN for an insight into the state of protest, free speech and human rights from one of the world's leading writers on Russia.
Masha Gessen is a journalist who has written for Slate, the New Republic, the New York Times and other publications. She is the author of several books, including Dead Again, Two Babushkas, Blood Matters: A Journey Along the Genetic Frontier and The Man Without a Face. Her latest book is Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot published by Granta Books in 2014.
Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London, EC1R 3GA