(Potato) seeds of change | Review: Don’t Trust, Don’t Fear, Don’t Beg – Ben Stewart (non-fiction)

Greenpeace protesters in the Arctic

Don’t Trust, Don’t Fear, Don’t Beg is a brick of a book and I’ll admit I put off reading it for a few weeks. More fool me, because it’s actually an exciting, quick read.

Don't Trust Don't Fear Don't Beg by Ben StewartIt’s partly a snapshot of a political movement (Greenpeace); partly a real-life thriller (what happens when Greenpeace activists are arrested during a direct action); and partly a prison soap opera (they’re arrested in Russia… yikes).

This could have been a turgid read, but where Ben Stewart succeeds is by zeroing in on the individual stories, and teasing out not only the fearfulness of the situation but also the ridiculousness.

The most memorable part of the book for me is when one jailed activist, a vegan, is grudgingly given a prison diet of potatoes — more potatoes than she could ever eat, which accumulate horrifyingly in her cell, pushing her to more and more extreme attempts to get rid of the damn potatoes. It’s stranger than fiction and better than fiction.

Of course, the cast of characters is so broad (30 of ’em, natch) that not every story can be told. Some of the activists are simply mentioned without any elaboration, and even those individuals whose stories are followed the whole way through tend to blur together.

Also, as a snapshot of a movement and of a moment, it’s inevitably limited. There’s an ending, when — spoiler alert for, uh, THE NEWS — the activists are released, but despite this, the book ends with a strong sense of many many threads left loose and unravelling.

Despite this, I’d recommend it. I’ve read a lot of books about activists and few are as clear-eyed and non-sensationalistic as this one.

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