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4.7 31
by Henri Charriere, Walter B. Michaels (Translator), June P. Wilson (Translator), Jean-Pierre Castelnau (Introduction), Jean-Pierre Castelnau (Introduction)

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Henri Charrière, called "Papillon," for the butterfly tattoo on his chest, was convicted in Paris in 1931 of a murder he did not commit. Sentenced to life imprisonment in the penal colony of French Guiana, he became obsessed with one goal: escape. After planning and executing a series of treacherous yet failed attempts over many years, he was


Henri Charrière, called "Papillon," for the butterfly tattoo on his chest, was convicted in Paris in 1931 of a murder he did not commit. Sentenced to life imprisonment in the penal colony of French Guiana, he became obsessed with one goal: escape. After planning and executing a series of treacherous yet failed attempts over many years, he was eventually sent to the notorious prison, Devil's Island, a place from which no one had ever escaped . . . until Papillon. His flight to freedom remains one of the most incredible feats of human cunning, will, and endurance ever undertaken.

Charrière's astonishing autobiography, Papillon, was published in France to instant acclaim in 1968, more than twenty years after his final escape. Since then, it has become a treasured classic — the gripping, shocking, ultimately uplifting odyssey of an innocent man who would not be defeated.

Editorial Reviews

New York Review of Books
“A first-class adventure story.”
Janet Flanner (Gênet)
“A modern classic of courage and excitement.”
New York Times
“[Papillon] is the ultimate hero defying the ultimate system of oppression and succeeding by dint of will, optimism...[and] a sense of honor given only to West Point graduates and Paris thieves.”
Auguste Le Breton
“The greatest adventure story of all time.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.92(d)

Read an Excerpt

First Notebook

The Descent
Into Hell

The Assizes

It was a knockoutblow — a punch so overwhelming that I didn't get back on my feet for fourteen years. And to deliver a blow like that, they went to a lot of trouble.

It was the twenty-sixth of October, 1931. At eight o'clock in the morning they let me out of the cell I'd been occupying in the Conciergerie for a year. I was freshly shaved and carefully dressed. My suit was from a good tailor and gave me an air of elegance. A white shirt and pale-blue bow tie added the final touches.

I was twenty-five but looked twenty. The police were a little awed by my gentlemanly appearance and treated me with courtesy. They had even taken off my handcuffs. All six of us, the five policemen and I, were seated on two benches in a bare anteroom of the Palais de justice de Ia Seine in Paris. The doors facing us led to the courtroom. Outside the weather was gray.

I was about to be tried for murder. My lawyer, Raymond Hubert, came over to greet me. "They have no real proof," he said. "I'm confident we'll be acquitted." I smiled at that we. He wasn't the defendant. I was. And if anybody went to jail, it wouldn't be him.

A guard appeared and motioned us in. The double doors swung wide and, flanked by four policemen and a sergeant, I entered the enormous room. To soften me up for the blow, everything was blood red: the rugs, the draperies over the big windows, even the robes of the judges who would soon sit in judgment over me.

"Gentlemen, the court!"

From a door on the right six men filed in, one after the other: the President, thenthe five magistrates, their caps on their heads. The President stopped in front of the middle chair, the magistrates took their places on either side.

An impressive silence filled the room. Everyone remained standing, myself included. Then the Bench sat down and the rest of us followed suit.

The President was a chubby man with pink cheeks and a cold eye. His name was Bevin. He looked at me without a trace of emotion. Later on, he would conduct the proceedings with strict impartiality, and his attitude would lead everyone to understand that, as a career judge, he wasn't entirely convinced of the sincerity of either the witnesses or the police. No, he would take no responsibility for the blow; he would only announce the verdict.

The prosecutor was Magistrate Pradel. He had the grim reputation of being the "number one" supplier to the guillotine and to the domestic and colonial prisons as well.

Pradel was the personification of public vengeance: the official accuser, without a shred of humanity. He represented law and justice, and he would do everything in his power to bend them to his will. His vulture's eyes gazed intently down at me-down because he sat above me, and down also because of his great height. He was at least six foot three-and he carried it with arrogance. He kept on his red cloak but placed his cap in front of him and braced himself with hands as big as paddles. A gold band indicated he was married, and on his little finger he wore a ring made from a highly polished horseshoe nail.

Leaning forward a little, the better to dominate me, he seemed to be saying, "Look, my fun-loving friend, if you think you can get away from me, you're much mistaken. You don't know it, but my hands are really talons and they're about to tear you to pieces. And if I'm feared by the lawyers, it's because I never allow my prey to escape.

"It's none of my business whether you're guilty or innocent; my job is to use everything that's available against you: your bohemian life in Montmartre, the testimony extorted from the witnesses by the police, the testimony of the police themselves. With the disgusting swill the investigator has collected, I must make you seem so repulsive that the jury will cast you out of the society of men."

Was I dreaming or was he really speaking to me? Either way I was deeply impressed by this "devourer of men."

"Don't try to resist, prisoner. Above all, don't try to defend yourself. I'm going to send you down the road of the condemned anyway. And I trust you have no faith in the jury. Have no illusions in that quarter. Those twelve know nothing of life.

"Look at them, there in front of you. Can you see them clearly, those dozen cheeseheads brought to Paris from some distant village? They're only petits bourgeois, some retired, others small businessmen. Not worth talking about. You can't expect them to understand your twenty-five years and the life you've led in Montmartre. To them, Pigalle and the Place Blanche are hell itself, and anybody who stays up half the night is an enemy of society. They like to serve on this jury, are extremely proud of it, in fact.

Moreover, I can assure you, they're all acutely aware of their own mean little lives.

"And here you are, young and handsome. Surely you realize I'm going to hold nothing back when I describe you as a Don Juan of Montmartre? I'll make them your enemies straight off. You're too well dressed. You should have worn more humble garments. Ah, that was a major tactical error. Don't you see they envy you your clothes? They buy theirs at Samaritaine. Never have they gone to a tailor, even in their dreams."

It was now ten o'clock, and we were ready to start. Before me were six magistrates, one of whom was an aggressive attorney who was going to use all his Machiavellian power and intelligence to convince these twelve shopkeepers that I was guilty...

Meet the Author

Born in 1906, and imprisoned in 1931, Henri Charrière finally escaped in 1945 to Venuzuela, where he married, settled in Caracas, and opened a restaurant. He died in 1973.

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Papillon 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read it
Anonymous 9 months ago
Great perspective of a prisoners life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
VAshby More than 1 year ago
This was an great book about his life adventures. Some of it was a bit unbelievable. And at many points int the book I was thinking, "Really?" Did everyone Papillion met, jailors included, come to the conclusion that he was noble and that his repeated escape attempts were totally justified? Did local Indian tribes really embrace embrace him and give him women that totally fell in love with him? And then he chose to leave paradise? Any way, in spite of the unbelievable the book earns it's good ratings.
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RalphRI More than 1 year ago
Henri relates his experiences as a prisoner in the French penal system. His writing gets the reader to intimately identify with the shocking and enlightening events during this period of his incarceration. I loved his unquenching determination to escape his imprisonment after innumberable attemps. Loved the book for its insights into the human condition when presented with heartbreaking odds, but he finally succeeded in his escape.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I never imagined that a jail life is so pathetic.I read it recently and used to spend whole night reading pappilon as though preparing for an Exam.The prison conditions, the Daring escape attempts,The repeated attempts for 11 years was truely inspiring.If each indivisual puts as much as the efforts of Pappilon in reaching our goal in real life we would have been long back successful.I can never forget Pappilon character whole life.The escape from the Devil's island just with a Gunny bag full of Coconuts in the Shark infected and High tide sea was really impossible to imagine too.This book says that nothing is IMPOSSIBLE.A must for all who are afraid of Change and scared of failures in life.This book is a tonic for those are scared of failures and unhappy with present life.This books shows how lucky we are to be free in this world with the least pain and least suffering. Worth 10 times the Book cost
Guest More than 1 year ago
My aunt gave me this book to read while i was on the job hunt.The book is really interesting and outstanding.This book really deals with the struggle of a man named PAPILLON and how he get rids of the situations.And finally how he escapes from the devils island.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've watched the move several times since I was little. My mother's godmother gave me the book, and I decided I must read it. I can not even express how much I liked the book. The movie is excellent, but the book is full of much more wonderful detail. It is not a difficult read and keeps the reader interested at all times.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of those Ultimate Tales of Survival. When I was back in school my father always asked me to read 'Pappilon'. Now after 14 years I understand why. The survival story of Pappi is 'surreal'. What I mean by that is - a normal person would give up and die in similar situations. From French Guyana to the Devils Island and finally to Venezuala, Henri Charriere perhaps brings out the extreme in mans zeal to survive all odds. While reading the book quite often you end up asking - can this be true, can this be real, what if Iam in a similar position. Pappi brings out great condradictions - he is on island inhabited by the Indians who are supposed to be ferocious and merciless. On this island he finds love and peace. He is on an island of Lepers - here he finds friendship and compassion. He is resting in a church and totally trusts the mother superior. And she is the one who betrays him. To sum up - Papillon makes you stronger
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the most interesting and exciting books I've read. If even half of what the author claims is true, it's an amazing adventure.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I came across this book while I was doing research for a speech on Devil's Island. I began to read it for information, and had little hopes that it would be interesting. I really did enjoy the book though and found that I didn't want to put it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is excelent! Papillon was the best book I have ever read. I watched the movie when I was younger and I thought it was neat on how he tries to escape. Then in the book it gives you that and even more. If you like, or even if you don't like to read you should get this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm 15 years of age and I had heard of the inspirational tale from my father. He told me that when he was young in the 1970's he read this book and he thought I would like it. I was out with my freinds at Barnes and Noble in Grand Rapids,MI I saw it and remembered i had a book report in english class so I picked it up. As i began to read I brought myself to notice that i had much to learn about my supposed hardships. I threw myself to this book like no other I had even called in sick to work just to get an extra 4 hours of reading in before school the next day. I recommend this to all readers and hope you all enjoy it as much as I have. Thanks, M.V.