Ballad of the Anarchist Bandits: The Crime Spree That Gripped Belle Époque Paris

John Merriman. Nation, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-56858-988-6
Historian Merriman (Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune) recounts the 1911 bank robbery and subsequent manhunt that rocked the relatively placid Third French Republic in the last days of the belle époque. He takes readers to the outskirts of Paris, to the working-class neighborhood of Romainville, the site of an anarchist commune. The members of the Bonnot Gang met there, including petty criminal André Soudy and the vicious Jules Bonnot. Merriman’s electrifying narrative follows the gang on their crime spree, from the bank heist to a gruesome home burglary and murder, along with a host of other crimes. The tension builds as Paris erupts in mass hysteria and the police slowly close in on the criminals, resulting in a standoff of epic proportions featuring dynamite and unfolding before thousands of picnicking spectators, eager to witness justice. While the criminals themselves are certainly fascinating, equally so are Rirette Maîtrejean and Victor Kibaltchiche, young lovers caught up with the wrong crowd and arrested and tried under France’s “scoundrel laws,” which ensured harsh punishments for criminal collaborators. In addition to his vivid portrayals of the principal characters and events, the author provides informative context to the crimes, outlining the severe exploitation of workers in this supposedly idyllic time in Parisian history. This is a nuanced and fascinating dissection of the events by a riveting storyteller with a sympathetic (but unsentimental) view of the anarchists’ cause. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/28/2017
Release date: 10/03/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-5491-9537-2
Compact Disc - 978-1-5491-9533-4
Show other formats
Discover what to read next