Why this book?
Charriere’s story of his escape from a penal colony in French Guiana in 1931, where he was serving a life sentence for murder, is utterly engrossing. The reader quickly becomes immersed in a fantastical world of survival, betrayal, luck, and daring, as the author – nicknamed ‘Papillon’ as a result of the butterfly tattoo on his chest – describes his exploits in the darkest depths of prison, the untamed jungles of South America and the unforgiving tropical seas. The knowledge that Charriere himself later said that the book was “only 75% true” and an amalgam of his story with those of other inmates he knew and met, does nothing to diminish the book's impact and unrelenting entertainment value.
Why should I read it?
What is this book about?
An immediate sensation upon its publication in 1969, Papillon is a vivid memoir of brutal penal colonies, daring prison breaks and heroic adventure on shark-infested seas.
Condemned for a murder he did not commit, Henri Charriere, nicknamed Papillon, was sent to the penal colony of French Guiana. Forty-two days after his arrival he made his first break for freedom, travelling a thousand gruelling miles in an open boat. He was recaptured and put into solitary confinement but his spirit remained untamed: over thirteen years he made nine incredible escapes, including from the notorious penal colony on Devil's Island.