As the authors state in the postface, this story evidently belongs to the realm of fiction: there is no historical evidence that Marx ever visited Paris during the Commune even though he definitely had connections to the French capital in the period of the insurrection. However, it is fascinating how this small book plays with the possibilities that are within the historical evidence: we have no sources that attest Marx’s presence in Paris, but there is also no evidence that denies it. So, Löwy and Besancenot’s work focuses on the possibilities that can be found in the spaces left blank within the books of history, a practise common in many historical novels that feature protagonists that really existed. It imagines how a recently found notebook written by Marx’s daughter Jenny could cast a new light on the history of the Paris Commune as it narrates the secret trip, she and her father undertook to revolutionary Paris in 1871.
The focus surely is to a significant extent on some of the protagonists of the Commune. However, unlike in a history book, in this work of fiction they really come to life. Their convictions get exposed through meaningful but yet natural discussions among friends. The communards thus come across as tangible men and women. More even than the conversation with people such as Léo Frankel, Louise Michel, Eugène Varlin or Elisabeth Dmitrieff I enjoyed the parts where father and daughter Marx encounter common people, the masses of the unknown that form the majority of the Commune. In particular, I was fascinated by the workers from the carpentry cooperative who learn how to self-organize themselves and learn new skills along the way.
In general, I really enjoyed how this book tries to narrate the Commune as a lived experience, as something happening in the present, not overshadowed by its repression, even though there are hints about it in the footnotes that appear from time to time. And while it focuses on the protagonists, it leaves room also for the unknown of the Commune, gives them a voice too to express their reality and their viewpoints. The only thing I regret is that this book is this short, because I would love to continue this time travelling experience and immerse in 1871 Paris even more, for exploring how it may have been to live the Commune is what drives me to read so many things about this period.