Paris, 1911. Picasso, Debussy, and Proust were revolutionizing art, music, and literature. Electricity had transformed the City of Lights. And the Parisian elites were mad about their fancy new cars. The Belle Epoque was well underway, yet it was not without incident.
That year, Paris was gripped by a violent crime streak that obsessed and frightened its citizens. Before Bonnie and Clyde and John Dillinger, the Bonnot Gang, led by the coarse Jules Bonnot, captured the minds of a nation with their Robin Hood-esque capers. With guns blazing, the Bonnot Gang robbed banks and wealthy Parisians and killed anyone who got in their way in spectacularly cinematic fashion - all in the name of their particular brand of anarchism.
In Ballad of the Anarchist Bandits
, John Merriman describes the Bonnot Gang’s murderous tear and the Parisian police force’s botched efforts to stop them. At the heart of the book are two anarchist idealists who wanted to find an alternative to Bonnot’s crimes and the French government’s unchecked violence. Victor Kibaltchiche and Rirette Maitrejean met and fell in love at an anarchist rally, and together ran the radical Parisian newspaper L'Anarchie, which covered the Bonnot Gang with great sympathy. The couple and their anarchist friends occupied a world far apart from the opulent Paris of the Champs-Elysees. Their Paris was a vast city of impoverished workers who lived near bleak canals, cemeteries, and empty lots around smoky factories.
Victor and Rirette found hope in radical politics, Bonnot and his gang in crime, but none could escape the full might of the French military. The lovers were arrested and imprisoned for their political views, Bonnot was murdered after an hours-long standoff with the police, and his gang was hunted down and sentenced to death by guillotine or lifelong imprisonment. Ballad of the Anarchist Bandits
is a classic tale of lost causes, tragic heroes, and the true costs of justice and revenge.