David's Reviews > Papillon

Papillon by Henri Charrière
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's review
Feb 15, 10

really liked it
Read in January, 2010

This book was published in 1970 as a sensational autobiography, but it's widely considered to be significantly fictionalized. The author was sentenced to life imprisonment in France in the 1930's, for a crime he claims not to have committed. He was sent to French Guiana, and immediately began his escape attempts.

In graphic detail, he describes the misery and injustice of the French penal system, including punishment and torture, solitary confinement, inmate interactions, etc. He escaped repeatedly during the course of thirteen years. Charriere's adventures lead him from French Guiana to Colombia and other countries, searching for a place where he'll be allowed to start over. At one point he lives among an Indian tribe, earning their acceptance and impregnating two wives. But his desire for revenge compels him to leave even that safe and idyllic existence. After further imprisonment, he eventually finds freedom in Venezuela.

This is a fascinating journey, but it starts to feel repetitive as each imprisonment and escape builds on the previous one. There is some amount of graphic violence and some sexuality that are distracting.

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