Nickolas's Reviews > Papillon

Papillon by Henri Charrière
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's review
Sep 16, 2008

it was amazing
Read from December 04, 2011 to January 07, 2012

This is an extraordinary true story about a truly amazing and extraordinary man. My friend Steve in Australia, an older gent, gave it to me two years ago to read thinking I would like it. Well he was right. I did. I do. And I’m sort of sorry it took me this long to read it but I am sort of glad I did, because it was my travelling book companion through Laos and Malaysia. At times I would be on a boat going down a river and reading about Papillon on a boat going down a river. He was in prison whilst I was in a prison like $5 guesthouse in Laos eating prison ration foods on a backpacker’s budget. I started reading this book in Loas, and picked at it sometimes fiercely and other times sparingly from Luang Prabang down to Vientiane. Then continued reading in Kuala Lumpur and finally finished it in my prison cell style share house here in Langkawi, Malaysia. Not as interesting as his story but sometimes there’s a story in reading a story and this is mine. A good book can be a perfect accompaniment to travelling or time or place in your life similar to how a good wine or beer can perfectly accompany a meal.

In the forward that the English translator Patrick O’Brien (the book was written in French and pigeon Spanish by Papillon in Venezuela 20 years after his freedom) mentioned a funny quote from a Minister in France in the early 1970’s who said “The present hopeless moral decline of France is due to the wearing of miniskirts and to the reading of Papillon.” Yes, this book had an impact on the French when it was released and it had an impact on me. Not in the sense that I think this Minister was implying or how the rebellious angst riddled youth of France took it, with a sort of romantic view of the underworld and rising against the man, but how Papillon himself had lived and meant to get across in his telling of this story; that is appreciation of the human spirit, the ability to challenge oneself, keep a positive attitude in the face of anything life throws at you, and to try and be a good man and appreciate the kindness of good people.

Yes, there is a lot of ugly prison stuff taking place in his story, but you sort of understand the code that they lived by or tried to live by anyway. I can’t really add much to say what others haven’t said so I’ll just put some quotes from French papers upon the release of this book to fluff it out a bit.

‘A book of incredible humour, suffering, horror; full of the unshakable will to live’ – France-Soir

‘One closes this book drunk with adventure, overcome with compassion’ – L’Express

‘Papillon is a ravaging chain of stories...after the first few pages you are taken by the scruff of your neck, hauled along at full speed to the end where you are left, exhausted and stupefied, with just enough breath left to ask: “How is it possible for a man to live through all this without dying a thousand times and without going mad?”’ – Le Nouvel Observateur

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