PRINT December 2017

Books: Best of 2017

Chris Kraus

Unlike other classics of Russian gulag literature, Maria Alyokhina’s activist memoir Riot Days(Metropolitan) ends rather well. While the authoritarian government that incarcerated her remains in place, she has not only withstood it but used her experience to inspire and advocate for hundreds of other prisoners of the regime.

It’s tempting to understand Riot Days as a self-help book (and isn’t all the best literature a form of self-help?), because it shows how a life of real meaning and beauty can be lived even under the most oppressive circumstances. But such a reading would overlook Alyokhina’s formidable gifts as a writer and thinker. Composed as a series of bulletins or posts spanning two years, from the formation of Pussy Riot to the group’s kangaroo-court trial in Moscow to her imprisonment under the harshest conditions and her eventual release, the book demonstrates the power of one person’s courage and spirit to carve out a sliver of hope in the darkest of times.

Chris Kraus is a writer and critic based in Los Angeles.