Greg's Reviews > Papillon

Papillon by Henri Charrière
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's review
Sep 05, 09

bookshelves: fiction-and-humor, history-and-biography
Read in January, 1973

After seeing the movie "Papillon" (Steve McQueen, awesome), I wanted to read the book. It was OK, but not as compelling as I had expected. Plus, as it turns out, though the book was billed as autobiographical, it probably wasn't. At best, it may have been a loosely realistic account of events experienced by a number of prisoners with whom the author associated while in French prisons.

It covers a fourteen-year period in Papillon's life dating from when he was wrongly convicted of murder. His punishment was life at hard labor at the notorious Devil's Island penal colony, but he was also imprisoned (and attempted escapes) at numerous locations. At least one of his escape attempts was temporarily successful, but his desire for revenge against the authorities led him back into their hands. Punishment for his escape attempts was often solitary confinement for years at a time.

After his final escape from devil's Island, Papillon was ultimately released, obtained Venezuelan citizenship, and thereafter, fame for his escapes.

Charrière originally submitted his manuscript to the publisher as a novel, and the publisher persuaded him to call it an autobiography. I probably wouldn't have read it had I known that at the time...my interest was in true accounts of escapes. Nevertheless, the descriptions of the various escape attempts, of the horrendous conditions under which the prisoners lived, and of the indomitable spirit of the man to be free again made it a reasonably good read.

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