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Papillon by Henri Charrière

Papillon (1969)

by Henri Charrière

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Papillon Series (1)

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This is the story of Henri Charierre, known as Papillon (which is French for butterfly – he had a butterfly tattoo on his chest) and his incarceration in a French prison in 1930 for a murder which Papillon has always denied committing. During his subsequent years of imprisonment, he spent time in many prisons and penal colonies, which had varying degrees of cruelty and inhumane treatment. Papillon made several attempts to break out of the various institutions, with varying degrees of success.

The veracity of the story has often been questioned, with Papillon himself saying that it is about 75% true, while more modern researchers believe that parts of his story which he claims happened to him, were actually about other prisoners. Either way, it’s an interesting adventure, and you have to admire his grit and determination to become a free man.

I enjoyed the book overall, although I found it took a long time for me to read. There was so much information in parts that I had to take it slowly, to make sure I took it all in. Charierre himself is an engaging, if occasionally self-aggrandising character, and certainly a good storyteller. I liked the fact that although – especially in the beginning of the story – he was concentrated on his anger on the people who had wrongly incarcerated him (such as the Judge, prosecutor and people on the jury during his trial), and his determined to exact his revenge, over the passage of time, he came to focus on the kindnesses shown to him by various people, and was not lacking in compassion for others.

This was definitely a book worth reading, and the ending was particularly uplifting. I would definitely recommend it. (However, readers ought perhaps to be aware that the author occasionally uses some outdated and distasteful racial descriptions.) ( )
  Ruth72 | Feb 21, 2015 |
This memoir of the author's years of imprisonment in French Guiana and the tale of his escapes is fascinating mainly because of the warm heart and openness of the narrator. In spite of horrible conditions and the trauma he has been though, he so frequently focuses on the many people who trusted and helped him on his way. ( )
  gbelik | Feb 18, 2015 |
Picked up at a used book sale. What a good idea that was. Almost a perfect 5. The words intrepid and indefatigable are under Charriere's picture in the dictionary. The movie was good but the book is astounding. Well written in the first person. The man kept his sanity and sense of self under the most extreme conditions the modern world could offer. If things seem to hard think of Papillion. Hats off to Charriere. ( )
  JBreedlove | Feb 4, 2015 |
Simply brilliant. The thought that this man just wrote down his experiences and was able to recall so much in such great detail is phenomenal. Add to that the fact that he wasn't a writer, but wrote what he knew. And what he knew was endlessly fascinating. You can tell that no one tried to edit him but just let him speak for himself because occasionally he would change tense from past to present. I'm sure he whitewashed some of his more violent experiences so he could still portray himself as the good guy but it doesn't detract from the tale. The most fascinating part, to me, was his time with the Indians ... truly amazing. He creates a vibrant picture of a simple, primitive but mostly happy existence. Truly fascinating book. ( )
  AliceAnna | Aug 17, 2014 |
Having seen the famous movie so many years ago with Steve McQueen in a great performance I thought I would take a shot at the book. I wanted to get it at my local library and all they had were two versions, one in French and one in Spanish. How about English I asked. Months later one finally surfaced. Overall I thought the book was well written and quite the adventure yarn. But with these first person narratives I always wonder how embellished they are.

One thing for sure was the movie cut out a lot of the book material and seemed to reshuffle the order of events somewhat. It is hard to believe a man could survive what he went through for so long a time while so many around him went down. But it is a testimony to the power of the human spirit when it focuses on getting to the one thing many of us hold as the ultimate objective in life, freedom. ( )
  knightlight777 | Apr 15, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charrière, Henriprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
O'Brian, PatrickTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To the Venezuelan people,
to the humble fisherman in the Gulf of Paria,
to everybody-the intellectuals, the military
and all the others-who gave me a chance
to live again,

and to Rita, my wife and dearest friend.
First words
It was a knockout blow--a punch so overwhelming that I didn't get back on my feet for fourteen years.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061120669, Paperback)

Henri Charrière, called "Papillon," for the butterfly tattoo on his chest, was convicted in Paris in 1931 of a murder he did not commit. Sentenced to life imprisonment in the penal colony of French Guiana, he became obsessed with one goal: escape. After planning and executing a series of treacherous yet failed attempts over many years, he was eventually sent to the notorious prison, Devil's Island, a place from which no one had ever escaped . . . until Papillon. His flight to freedom remains one of the most incredible feats of human cunning, will, and endurance ever undertaken.

Charrière's astonishing autobiography, Papillon, was published in France to instant acclaim in 1968, more than twenty years after his final escape. Since then, it has become a treasured classic -- the gripping, shocking, ultimately uplifting odyssey of an innocent man who would not be defeated.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:31 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Condemned for a murder he had not committed, Henri Charrie??re (nicknamed Papillon) was sent to the penal colony of French Guiana. 42 days after his arrival he made his first break for freedom. Recaptured, he was sent to Devil's Island, a hell-hole of disease & brutality. In 13 years he made nine daring escapes.… (more)

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