By now, you know: On February 21, 2012, five women in colorful dresses and masks entered the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow to stage a "punk prayer." Three of the women were arrested, tried, and sentenced to two years in prison. Russian prison.
I kept careful tabs on the events (one of my first Stranger pieces was on Pussy Riot), but still craved information. These faraway stories and sterile news reports were so disconnected from what I really wanted to know. Who are these women? Masha Gessen's Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot wastes no time in answering that question, intimately detailing the rise of Pussy Riot by profiling each member and the events that led to their crusade.
Pussy Riot's founder, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (Nadya), was an obsessively studious child. Her somewhat immature father, Andrei—who tells Gessen things like "I am an expert in the upbringing of girls"—encouraged her to be more rebellious. Teenage Nadya took up radical activism in university, like when five couples videotaped themselves having sex in the Biology Museum (Nadya was nine months pregnant at the time; her daughter Gera was born four days later).