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Papillon [Paperback]

Henri Charrière , Patrick O'Brian
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1999
Condemned for a murder he had not committed, Henri Charriere (nicknamed Papillon) was sent to the penal colony of French Guiana. Forty-two days after his arrival he made his first break, travelling a thousand gruelling miles in an open boat. Recaptured, he suffered a solitary confinement and was sent eventually to Devil's Island, a hell-hole of disease and brutality. No one had ever escaped from this notorious prison - no one until Papillon took to the shark infested sea supported only by a makeshift coconut-sack raft. In thirteen years he made nine daring escapes, living through many fantastic adventures while on the run - including a sojourn with South American Indians whose women Papillon found welcomely free of European restraints! "Papillon" is filled with tension, adventure and high excitement. It is also one of the most vivid stories of human endurance ever written. Henri Charriere died in 1973 at the age of 66.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; New Ed edition (1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0586034862
  • ISBN-13: 978-0586034866
  • Product Dimensions: 17.5 x 11.2 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 269,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

From the Back Cover

Condemned for a murder he had not committed, Henri Charriere (nicknamed Papillon) was sent to the penal colony of French Guiana. Forty-two days after his arrival he made his first break, travelling a thousand gruelling miles in an open boat. Recaptured, he suffered a solitary confinement and was sent eventually to Devil's Island, a hell-hole of disease and brutality. No one had ever escaped from this notorious prison – no one until Papillon took to the shark infested sea supported only by a makeshift coconut-sack raft. In thirteen years he made nine daring escapes, living through many fantastic adventures while on the run – including a sojourn with South American Indians whose women Papillon found welcomely free of European restraints…

'Papillon' is filled with tension, adventure and high excitement. It is also one of the most vivid stories of human endurance ever written.

Henri Charriere died in 1973 at the age of 66.

About the Author

Patrick O’Brian was one of our greatest contemporary novelists. He is the author of the acclaimed Aubrey–Maturin tales and the biographer of Joseph Banks and Picasso. He lived for many years in south west France and he died in Dublin in January 2000.


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First Sentence
IT WAS A KNOCKOUT BLOW-a punch so overwhelming that I didn't get back on my feet for fourteen years. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You Want To Put It Down! 14 July 2005
By Stupot
Format:Paperback
This is simply one of my favourite books and a must read for anyone with a sense of adventure. The authors descriptions of the conditions he has to endure during both imprisonment and escape are vivid and this provides the book with a real edge. I often wondered what hell he would have to endure next or which of his colleagues would be left for dead or captured. I read it whilst on holiday and couldn't put it down...worth putting your hand in your pocket for!
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hands down the best book I've read! 9 Dec 2004
Format:Paperback
What an amazing book! No other book has captured my imagination as strongly as Papillon. It is a true account of a man sentenced to life imprisonment in the French penal colony of French Guiana and his many attempts to escape.
It is superbly paced and flows so well that it's almost impossible to find a point where it can be put down so you can get your breath back! Charriere manages to encompass just about every emotion and through all the adversity and suffering there is still plenty of room for some wicked slices of humour.
At a push, two slight criticisms: Throughout, he claims to be innocent of the crime that he was punished for (which I am a little dubious about after reading some of his exploits!); and I also felt he was a bit "over-modest" and too superhuman at times, but this does not taint the quality of the story at all...just minor niggles!
Also recommended is "Banco", the sequel to Papillon, in which Charriere describes his life on the straight and narrow....yeah,right.
Last point: Why on earth wasn't there a better film made? Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman are brilliant but the film was desperately disappointing. It would have been better to have made two or three 2-hour films (a la Kane and Abel) and done the book justice.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I've ever read! 28 July 2009
By Moondog
Format:Paperback
A few years ago this book was passed to me by a friend who said it was the best book he'd ever read. And so it turned out to be my absolute favourite book of all time too. I've owned about 4 different copies now because I keep giving them away to people who then go on to claim this is also the best book they've ever read!

TRUTH OR FICTION???

After speaking in length to someone who once did a Papillion "tour" in the 1980s of all the hotspots in the book, and who spoke to locals that knew Henri Charriere back in that time, the verdict on the book's authenticity seems to be thus: All of the events in Papillion DID happen... BUT... They didn't all necessarily happen to Henri himself. It appears the scenes are an amalgamation of experiences that not only happened to him but to some of the other prisoners he knew during all those years of incarceration. So your reading enjoyment need not be totally spoiled by questioning whether the content is bogus. Just bare in mind Henri may have claimed other people's hardships as his own in order to write this most engaging adventure!

(P.S. If you love this then I'd thoroughly recommend BANCO, the sequel by the same author)
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
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 US 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 - it inspires self-esteem, to fortify yourself against those that would climb your walls to pull you down, but, above all, it inspires me to be human to others. 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 (God this sounds like I'm preaching! ).
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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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a read! 22 Jan 2006
Format:Paperback
This is one of few books that I continue to reread every few years cover to cover. The book is conversational in tone but the experiences are so personal and extreme that you feel that you have met and know Henri.
There is a great deal of humour and wisdom in the book unlike the disapointing film version which was standardised prison break adventure.
A difficult book to sum up but it has always amazed me that Henri found so much goodness in people, so much to admire in the most bleak and unlikely surroundings.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than the film 7 Feb 2004
Format:Paperback
Papillon is the fascinating true story about Henri Charriere who was sent to the infamous prison colony in French Guinea for a murder he didn’t commit. The book reads extremely well and covers Henri’s trial in France, the trip to the prison colony and his time in the colony. During his time at the prison colony Henri serves two stretches in solitary confinement and is eventually put onto Devils Island the supposable inescapable island were he eventually makes his successful escape for freedom. During his time he also makes several escape attempts with varying degrees of success and failure, one in which he is returned to the colony after escaping for a considerable length of time.
Papillon is a very exciting and readable book and has much more detail than the film, which omitted many parts of the story. This is the book for you if you like adventure/ prison stories with a happy ending it is also worth mentioning that Henri Charriere also wrote Banco which is his further adventures after escaping for good though to thoroughly understand this later book reading Papillon is really essential.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars great book
One of the best books I have ever read. A Fascinating story of an improbable journey with many twists and turns.
Highly recommended
Published 1 month ago by Mr S B Jarvand
3.0 out of 5 stars A pompous page turner
Fun and historically interesting. Similar to Shantaram in many ways: a great yarn, narrated by an author with a high sense of self-worth. It verges on the fantastical. Read more
Published 2 months ago by natalia
5.0 out of 5 stars Papillon - a must read
Such an inspirational story. I just could not stop reading the next part to this individual's enthralling life. Highly recommended indeed.
Published 2 months ago by David Denby
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read
I read this quite a few years ago in paperback format, but just had to add it to my kindle library
Published 2 months ago by Lester Polyester
4.0 out of 5 stars Book reveiw
This was to replace one bought many years ago that although well worn had been loaned out and lost. Pleased to read again.
Published 2 months ago by JoanB
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite book of all time
Truly amazing book. I could not put it down after opening it. The fact that it is a true story makes it so much more gripping.
Published 2 months ago by steveo
5.0 out of 5 stars papillon in english
Excellent but you need to have time to read it all. When you think the end is near it is not. Would like to be able to get the original in French (can anyone help?). Read more
Published 2 months ago by barbara
5.0 out of 5 stars Papillon (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
Papillon was a 'Crook' in Paris, and was a nuisance to the Police for a long time. So he was set up for murder and was sentenced to French Guiana for life. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Brian Walters
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb tale
Have read this book before , many moons ago . It is a quite wonderful tale of extreme hardship and amazing tenacity on the part of the author. Read more
Published 3 months ago by alison purser haggas
3.0 out of 5 stars Over-rated
Ok, after all the rave reviews i brought myself a copy. Its a fascinating and brutal story of determination and optimism. At times harrowing and at times enlightening. Read more
Published 3 months ago by mark harridge
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