Title: Riot Days
Author: Maria Alyokhina
Publisher: Allen Lane
Released: September 14th, 2017
Trigger Warnings: Being held prisoner, violence?
Synopsis*: In February 2012, after smuggling an electric guitar into Moscow’s iconic central cathedral, Maria Alyokhina and other members of the radical collective Pussy Riot performed a provocative “Punk Prayer,” taking on the Orthodox church and its support for Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime.
For this, they were charged with “organized hooliganism” and were tried while confined in a cage and guarded by Rottweilers. That trial and Alyokhina’s subsequent imprisonment became an international cause. For Alyokhina, her two-year sentence launched a bitter struggle against the Russian prison system and an iron-willed refusal to be deprived of her humanity. Teeming with protests and police, witnesses and cellmates, informers and interrogators, Riot Days gives voice to Alyokhina’s insistence on the right to say no, whether to a prison guard or to the president. Ultimately, this insistence delivers unprecedented victories for prisoners’ rights.
Evocative, wry, laser-sharp, and laconically funny, Alyokhina’s account is studded with song lyrics, legal transcripts, and excerpts from her jail diary–dispatches from a young woman who has faced tyranny and returned with the proof that against all odds even one person can force its retreat.
‘We were inspired by the Riot Grrrl Movement. We called ourselves Pussy Riot, because the first word invokes a sexist attitude towards women: soft, passive creatures.
And our “riot” is a response to that attitude. We rose up against gender inequality. We wanted to create the image of an anti-fascist superhero, so we needed to wear masks.’
In Riot Days Alyokhina leads readers down a a dark path, into the heart of Russia’s corrupt prison system but somehow manages to leave them with a sense of hope.
Alyokhina informs us what she did that lead to her incarceration and how she took her ‘political’ prisoner label and put it to use, fighting for prisoners basic human rights. Alyokhina may have been found guilty, but she sure as shit was not going to take her sentence and waste it. Instead she kicked up the biggest fuss she could.
Her story shines a light on how inhumane the treatment of prisoners is in Russia and highlights how important it is to stand up and use your voice to help those around you get the basic level of human respect that should automatically be paid to them in the first place.
‘Don’t you understand that you’re behaving like a revolutionary?
Like a 1968 dissident?’
‘I’m proud of that.’
I really struggled with Riot Days at first, it’s written in a stream of consciousness style that I am not quite used as it felt abrupt and choppy. However, once I got used to it I was sucked into Alyokhina’s story, despite knowing nothing about Russia or it’s political climate.
I know that Putin is president and I must admit that I have not done any research at all, I’ve steered quite clear of anything to do with him if I’m quite honest and the only reason I have is that when I look at him I get this visceral reaction that screams at me to run and stay as far away from this man as possible.
I don’t get that feeling often, especially not as strong as I have with Putin. After reading Riot Days though I think I may have to tune in to his name while looking into what is happening in the world.
‘How’s your cell? Spacious?’ the plaintiff, a Christian, asks me.
‘It’s big enough,’ I say, looking to the side at the window, from which the view is completely obscured by paint.
‘How many of you are there?’
‘Four, but we don’t all spend all our time there, of course.’
‘You mean they take you out for walks? How foten?’
‘My, it sounds just like a health spa!’
‘Want to trade places with me?’
Alyokhina has a way of pulling at your heart-strings in a way that has the reader not just feeling heartbroken at the treatment she received while incarcerated but also angry and ready for action.
Her sass and frank dialogue helped lift the mood just enough as to not feel depressed the whole way through but also showed just who Russia is dealing with here.
In my hand, I hold a clear plastic bag with my belongings in it. This is all I have. After a few weeks in prison, I have come to understand how easy it is to fit life into a plastic bag.
In the beginning of Alyokhina’s story you get the feeling she really has no idea what she’s getting herself into, that she is unprepared and that it is hard to believe she will make it out of the experience alive, and yet she proves time and time again that she may have been one of the best people they could have arrested because she refused to lay down and give up. She fought with everything in her, while malnourished and sick.
She faced people who made her life excruciating, knowing that she is making things harder for herself. That it is best for her to be quiet. But Alyokhina will not be silenced. She is here to riot.
If you hear someone talking about ‘humane’ treatment in Russian prisons, block your ears and turn away. Even better, challenge it as the lie that it is. Because there are no words to describe the eyes of a person pumped full of Aminazine. It’s as if their tears are frozen in place.
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest review.
*Taken from Goodreads.
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