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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars here is a man who wouldn't take it anymore
Papillon was one of my favourite books as a teenager and having read it several times as an adult it still stands as a great work. The thing I find so impressive about Charriere is his incredible integrity and pride. The story itself is filled with great adventure and high drama, and Charriere comes across like a modern day Ulysses. His determination and willpower are...
Published on Oct. 12 2006 by Dwayne Nietzche

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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting story but.....
I actually really enjoyed reading the book. Its 400+ pages passed by without a lull though after reading it a while I started doubting some of the stories. Not that the ordeal was too unbelieveable just that everything he did he was the best at it. He was the best gardner, the best fisherman, the best animal hearder, the best you name it! When the wardens of all three of...
Published on Sept. 21 2000 by Paul


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars here is a man who wouldn't take it anymore, Oct. 12 2006
This review is from: Papillon (Paperback)
Papillon was one of my favourite books as a teenager and having read it several times as an adult it still stands as a great work. The thing I find so impressive about Charriere is his incredible integrity and pride. The story itself is filled with great adventure and high drama, and Charriere comes across like a modern day Ulysses. His determination and willpower are truly remarkable. As a fan of this book for more than thirty years I highly recommend it. Note in my opinion the movie version doesn't hold a candle to the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Adventure Story with a Deep Theme, Jan. 11 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Papillon (Paperback)
Henri Cherriere created a master adventure story when he wrote "Papillon" but many people overlook the true meanings of the book. It is not simply the account of an escape from the bagne in French Guiana, it is also, as Cherriere called his first notebook, "The Descent into Hell." The full enormity of what happened in the penal colony there would have shocked French society to its core. Alfred Dreyfuss put the area into the spotlight, but very few people paid it much attention after his acquittal (World War I takes part of the blame for this). Over 70,000 French convicts were sent to French Guiana. Cherriere condemned the French judicial system for what it was: a decaying, corrupt, antiquated way of ridding French society of its offenders. Fyodor Dostoevsky once said, "The civilization of a society can be judged by entering its prisons." From that scale France could have ranked even lower than the US, whose prison system is biased and absolutely dreadful.
Cherriere also hit upon another point: hope when there is nothing but death and decay, hope when it seems that despair will finally extinguish the soul. Cherriere hoped and planned and was rewarded when he finally escaped in the early 1940's. I am not advocating escaping from prison but in a hellish place like the bagne, it was definitely justified.
So, read "Papillon" for the adventure, if you like that, or read it for the deep, subtle 'between-the-lines' meanings if you like those. This book has served as a thesis for my outlook on criminals and the justice system ever since I first read it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars GREAT READ EVEN IF IT'S PURE FICTION, April 27 2003
By 
Jeff Howard (South Dakota) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Papillon (Paperback)
I don't care if it's true or not, it's still a great story. This book is a real page turner. Though rumors persist that Charriere made PAPILLON up, there are enough nuggets of truth to make you think otherwise. I had a little trouble with Papi's consistent nobility throughout. Charriere leads you to believe he was a gentleman throughout. Kind of hard to believe. Also, he's a little sketchy on his conviction for murder. That leads me to believe he probably commited the crime for which he was convicted. I would agree that the French system of justice was pretty harsh back in the 1930's, but I'm sure Charriere exaggerated "a little" here and there.
But don't get me wrong. This was an amazing read. There is much more to the story than the movie. Truly great book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars "I don't belong here - I'm only visiting", Jan. 5 2004
By 
Slokes (Greenwich, CT USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Papillon (Paperback)
When Henri Charriere finds himself sent to a French prison colony for a crime he did not commit, he makes up his mind to go on a "cavale," literally to beat it and escape the custody of his captors. Like the butterfly (or in French "Papillon") which Charriere has tattooed to his chest, he will live his life in freedom or not at all. When a doctor questions him about his repeated escape attempts, Papillon's reply is matter-of-fact: "I don't belong here - I'm only visiting."
"Papillon" takes a while to get started, and Charriere's elusive and terse tone keeps one from feeling too close to the narrator. He tells you he didn't kill the man the police claim he did, but credits himself for not being a stool pigeon by telling them who did. So he's not exactly Dreyfus here, though he pretends otherwise at times. He mentions a wife and child in the outset almost as afterthoughts, then scarcely refers to them again. No false modesty for this guy - he runs the roost in every clink he is assigned, dispensing wisdom to prisoner and warden alike. No physical challenge is too much for him to overcome, no fellow "mec" too much for him to handle.
Let's put it this way: If Charriere is selling bridges, I ain't buying. But if this is more fiction than fact, "Papillon" still makes for one amazing novel. With minimal pretense at craft, Charriere crafts a white-knuckle, plain-spoken suspense tale that finds our hero in every imaginable predicament - and some not at all imaginable - as he makes attempt after attempt to escape the hell on earth that is French Guiana, the three Iles du Salut (literally "Isles of Salvation"), and ultimately Devil's Island. Taking you from the lush, mosquito-choked jungles of the Caribbean coastline to a solitary confinement where Papillon stays sane by imagining himself in childhood haunts, this is about as picturesque a ride as you can have sitting in your comfy chair.
A sense of life abounds in this book. Charriere holds court on such things as the proper way to sleep in a hammock, how one secretes money on one's "person," how the sharks knew when a corpse was about to be dumped in the sea, the strange tales prisoners tell, how one fishes for mullet on Devil's Island, etc. How much of this is on the level is tough to tell, but it fills the mind with a sense of a world lived in, and in one of the world's most obscure corners at that.
Whatever else, one statement Charriere makes is no doubt true: He is a spellbinding storyteller. He has a sense of the tragic and the funny and never lets the storyline sag. He also throws in nice little asides that keep the reader engaged. At one point, when he is thrown in solitary, Charriere takes a break from relating his squalor to offer this merry assurance: "The movie could not stop there; it must go on. It will go on, mecs! Just give me time to get back my strength and you'll have some new episodes, never fear!"
What makes "Papillon" especially readable and gripping is how Charriere comes into contact with the best and worst in people, sometimes the same people. The most seemingly depraved people can turn out to be not all bad; finding your hermit-like host keeps dead bodies in a pit outside his home is not necessarily proof he is out to do the same to you. He also has an intriguing religious sensibility, which yo-yos between antagonistic disbelief to a sense of profound grace. "Where there's life, there's hope" is an oft-repeated maxim in the book, and they are not hollow words for Papillon, whatever his state. Despair is unknown to him, and he's heartening to read for that alone.
I'd love to know how much of this tale is true. Apparently, there is a French-language book that analyzes the story of "Papillon" from a historical context, and the History Channel in the United States did a documentary you can order online. The little I've seen indicates some holes in the number of escape attempts Charriere made. But he was a prisoner, and then he was free; he wrote a book that, if just 10% true, would be enough to fill out four or five adventuresome lives; and his legacy is one people still passionately relate to more than 30 years after his death. I can't give this book five stars only because of this trust factor, but rest assured "Papillon" is worth your time, and you will be happy you read it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars a remarkable well-written, *controlled* autobiography.., April 16 2003
By 
lazza (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Papillon (Paperback)
Despite all the wonderful amazon.com reviews of Papillon I had reservations about reading it. I typically find autobiographical books to be a thinly-disguised excuse for self-glorification. However thankfully Papillon does not follow this pattern. And a much bigger surprise, it is extremely well-written. The literary world would have been a better place if the author started writing books earlier (..perhaps when he was in prison! :-)).
If you've seen the movie Papillon then you have some idea about what the book is about. However the film adaptation is very watered down compared to the book. The book doesn't cease to amaze the horrors of prison life in French Guiana (in the 1930s) and the extraordinary efforts Henri Charriere went through to escape. I was shocked and heartbroken in equal measures. And although the author claims he was wrongfully imprisoned without really explaining the details it is clear he is no angel; he doesn't gloss over his weaknesses and failings.
Bottom line: a terrific tale of horror and triumph. Recommended for those, like myself, who typically hate autobiographical "love me I'm a hero" books.
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4.0 out of 5 stars classic adventure, April 14 2003
By 
Karen Sampson Hudson (Reno, NV United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Papillon (Paperback)
This real-life adventure tale was a worldwide best seller, translated into many languages. The author, Henri Charriere, called "Papillon" because of the butterfly tattooed on his chest, was wrongfully convicted in a French court in 1931 and sent to a penal colony in French Guinea to serve his sentence. He is determined to escape, and the book takes us through many attempts until at last he attains his freedom and begins a new life in Venezuela. The book is full of heroes and villains---good people who befriend him and treat him decently, and cruel, sadistic people who make his miserable life even more so. Charriere's tone throughout is honest, rarely self-pitying, and unsparing in its depiction of feelings as well as actions.
"Papillon" is marred only by its misconceptions and dated, wrong ideas, especially about health and nutrition. Also, women readers may find the constant diet of adventure with only rare mentions of his loved ones back in France, and of the two children he fathered by girls of a welcoming native tribe, rather unsatisfying. One further jarring note is, as in true in prisons today, apparently a high percentage of the inmate population claim they are "innocent"--a concept that stretches Charriere's credibility.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great, March 13 2003
By 
J R Zullo (São Paulo, Brazil) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Papillon (Paperback)
"Papillon" is Henri Charrière's autobiographical book about the first half of his life.
Charriere was condemned to imprisonment for life in a penal colony in the French Guyana, for supposedly murdering a man when he was twenty-five. Reaching the prison camp in South America, he didn't stop for one moment to try inumerous and different ways to escape and have back the normal life of an honest man. In the book, Papillon tells us how were the years in prison, the friendship with other inmates, the terrible and inhuman confinement in a prison cell he had to take alone for two years as a punishment while in prison, the evasions and what he did in the brief time he was a free man in Colombia.
All the while, Charriere kept the word that all that was in the book really happened to him during his years in prison in South America. I tried to believe that for most of the book, but there were some things that made me believe that, while the essence of his very hard times is told in the book, the narrative was transformed to provide the readers a more compelling story. As an example, the constant division of the characters in the book: those who were totally friendly and loyal to Papillon, and those who only wanted him to suffer.
But what is important in "Papillon" is Charriere's strenght and his extreme denial in accepting his terrible fate, always trying to make his life and his friends' a little better in the situation they were. Aside from that, it's important to notice that the "correction facilities" and inmates situation maybe haven't changed that much since the 1930s and 1940s. I'm not defending people who were convicted from crimes they have commited, all I'm saying is that the legal system must have a commitment to the people they convict.
Grade 9.0/10
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5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring and impossible to put down, Dec 6 2002
By 
Bill R. Moore (New York, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Papillon is many things. It is an extremely engrossing book that is almost impossible to put down. It is an inspiring and courageous testament to the human spirit and perseverance in the face of the most seemingly impossible odds - a true Odyssey. It is also an earth-shattering wake-up call to those who think that prisoners do not suffer. Although conditions in prisons have obviously improved since the time portrayed in this book, here we get a rare glimpse into the penal system - straight from the mouth of a person who has been through it. This book contains many disturbing things, and goes into quite vivid detail about a lot of things which prisoners take for granted that we don't even think about - I won't spoil it for you: just read it for yourself. ... Aside from all of its overhanging social ramifications, however, this is a very entertaining and exciting book to read. One can read it simply for the action and thrills - of which there are many - while totally forgetting about its other, deeper level, and enjoy it fully on that front. There is, though, yet another aspect to the book: Papillon's unwavering sense of hope in situations that would cause almost any man to give up. No matter what happens, no matter how bad things get, he never loses hope - is always looking toward the next cavale. Charriere (who is Papillon, in case you were confused on that point), though no angel, is obviously an admirable and deeply fascinating character - it's a small wonder that many look at him as a hero and even a role model. He also opens our eyes to something that we often overlook (or choose to forget): criminals, by and large, though they may be social outcasts and lawbreakers, are very often invariably more good-hearted and honest than the often corrupt law system that locks them up. The loyalty the prisoners display towards one another, as well as the integrity and self-confidence they exude, is nothing short of astounding. Papillon's favorable comparison of the so-called "savage" peoples to his French countrymen are eye-opening as well. An immensely rewarding, eye-opening book that should be read by one and all.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Papillon is a genuine monster !, July 2 2001
By 
Matej Chabera (Prague, CZ, Europe) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Papillon (Paperback)
At first, forget about the film. I like Steve McQueen's Papillon too, but the real book is something totally different. Papillon, as the story is almost unbearably heavy and emotionally devastating to the reader. The book is a genuine monster of juxtaposition of Human and the World (that is both the human community and the nature) in the most extreme sense. I cannot raise the question of whether the story is all real and if Papillon went through the horrors that exceed imagination of a human of developed world like me. The narration simply does not allow for that, because the author has put so much of personality into his account and described the events and images so vividly. What though is most astonishing to me is the truthfulness and the solid bear reality. There is no attempt to amaze the reader, both the little aspects and the elevated emotional and moral phenomena are narratively presented in a clear and ordinary style, but with an unquestionable essence of purity and truth behind them.
It is also essential to apprehend the grand values that Papillon discovers, appreciates and highlights in his account. As a little example, the regular delivery of the little slip of paper from Dega and Grandet to Papillon in his solitary confinement cell on the Iles du Salut saying that they "are with him, will try to help and do hope" is essential. The reader realizes the incredible weight and importance of human support and friendship when one's in trouble or in loneliness. In normal life of a european, I find myself ignoring virtually millions of such little stimuli, for which Papi was so greatful and which kept him alive. I must admit I feel ashamed for this foolish nature of humans to ignore such small gifts when living in the relative luxury of the developed world.
From a literary point of view, the book is written in a very simple language, that does not employ any sophisticated linguistic devices. The language of Charriere is such due to him not being a writer. I feel though, that this factor is what makes the story so incredibly pure and substantial.
Henri Charriere has become a great teacher to me. Now that I have experienced possibly the greatest story of human experience, suffering and gradual purification of soul, my approach to every next minute of my life will be much more thankful. The values of friendship, reliability, absolute groundbreaking will AND honest truthfulness have been permanently engraved into my personality.
It is hard to imagine that many people of the world do not even know of Henri Charriere. It is sad to realize how many of them could become better people by experiencing his life story. Nevertheless, I deeply encourage you to read Papillon, no matter what your age or status. You will never regret it. Matej
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5.0 out of 5 stars Telling truths, like truth, some beautiful, others hideous, Feb. 9 2000
Papillon is the most moving true account of a time in a life I have had the luck to read. I have read all the reviews both here and on the UK site. Though it is the final word on perseverance, this is not the beauty of this book. No, it is not the narration, nor even the man himself or the breadth and depth of his adventures (though awesome). For me, it is the clear message that friendship is the greatest gift a person can have and give. It is friendship that allowed him to escape, to realize his dreams, to write his story. Where would he be without the kind Priest, how would he have planned the escape without Sierra, and what can you feel but shame (as did Papillon!) after the generosity of the lepers - how wholesome they seemed in their nature if not in their bodies. The examples are endless ( unlike this review - luckily! ) but the lesson is singular and clear.
This book is inspirational - no doubt - its inspiration is to gain self-esteem, to fortify yourself against those that would climb your walls to pull you down, but, above all, it is to be human to others around you. The inhumanity suffered by Papillon and others like him were at the hands of those who could not feel for others as Papi and his friends felt for others.
I read that one reviewer tattooed a butterfly on his chest in honour of Henri Charriere, for me, his story is tattooed on my mind. I think of his story and his friends as often as I do my own. The only other equally moving account of the power of friendship is "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck.
My friends, those who have read the book and those thinking about it - all the best!
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Papillon
Papillon by H Charriere (Paperback - June 14 2001)
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