Papillon takes readers through the life of Henri Charriere, a man who was wrongfully imprisoned by the French Government and was notorious for his many escapades. His initial escape from prison, although short lived, provided a single brush with freedom that sparked an obsession in Papillon, an obsession to escape. Over the course of eleven years in prison, he devised and executed plan after plan to free himself from the shackles.
Wrongfully convicted for a murder, Papillon was sentenced to imprisonment at the penal colony of French Guiana. A mere 42 days later, he made a break for freedom, travelling thousands of miles by sea, only to be recaptured and sentenced to solitary confinement.
From feigning an illness to living in an isolated leper colony and throwing himself off a cliff, Papillon tried it all. Every ingenious effort went in vain as he was recaptured every single time and brought back to be inflicted with more torture for his galling escapes.
After one escape too many, Papillon found himself at Devil’s island, a notorious prison from which no prisoner had ever escaped. But Papillon was no ordinary prisoner. Unlike other prisoners, who merely longed for freedom, Papillon was obsessed with it. With single-mindedness like that, not to mention sheer cunning, he tried to pull of an incredible feat like no other. The book goes on to show readers how his plan unfolded.
According to the author, the fictionalized portions of the book are minor and mainly due to memory lapses. Charrière’s memoir caused a public sensation with its graphic account of prison life and the French penal system.The veracity of the content has also been under much discussion.
Papillon, originally written in French, was first published in 1969. It was an instant bestseller. Soon after, it was translated into English by Walter B. Michaels and June P. Wilson. It was made into a Hollywood film, also titledPapillon.
About Henri Charrière
Henri Charrière was a French national convicted for murder.
Only two pieces of published works are credited to him, his hugely successful memoir, Papillon, and its sequel, Banco.
Charrière was born on November 16, 1906, in Ardèche, France. After serving for two years in the French Navy, he became a part of the French underworld. In 1931, a murder charge, one he strongly denied, was filed against him, based on which he was sentenced to life in prison. His first escape attempt eventually ended with him being put into solitary confinement at the French Guiana. In the years that followed, Charrière made several more escape attempts, only to be recaptured and treated with increased brutality by his captors. He was eventually released in 1945, after which he settled in Venezuela, where he earned the status of a minor celebrity. He married a woman named Rita, and the couple had a daughter. Charrière succumbed to throat cancer on July 29, 1973, in Madrid, Spain.