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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...
Posted February 9, 2010
"PAPILLON" BY HENRI CHARRIERE: THE BOOK ALLOWS THE READER TO EXPERIENCE TO DESIRE TO BE FREE FROM A FALSE IMPRISONMENT. THE LIFE HE HAD KNOWN HAD CHANGED FOREVER AND WOULD NEVER BE THE SAME, BUT TO BE FREE FROM WHAT HE KNEW HE HAD NOT DONE WAS HIS MOTIVATION, WHICH KEPT HIM GOING FORWARD. THE REVEALING STORY REALLY MAKES YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE THERE WITH HIM EXPERIENCING THIS LIFE CHANGING EXPERIENCE OF HIS AND HOW HE MANAGES TO FIND JOY IN HIS DAY TO DAY LIFE.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 4, 2013
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 15, 2012
this is an awesome narrative of the human spirit. papillon is the standard of which men should be judged. if you are a man and don't read this book, i hope you enjoy the rest of the "dancing with the stars" season...and then put your glass of wine down, retire your lance armstrong regalia that you wear for your weekend bike rides, stop plucking your eyebrows and read this book!
0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 15, 2009
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 14, 2007
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 costWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 10, 2007
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 30, 2006
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 strongerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 3, 2006
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 5, 2005
Posted July 9, 2002
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 29, 2002
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 19, 2001
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 7, 2001
This is by far one of the greatest books I've ever read. It takes a little while to get in to, but if you are into adventure-type novels you should definately look into reading this one. It has plenty of action, and it also has a lot of psycological things in it. It has a perfect combination of both, I STRONGLY recommend you reading this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 19, 2001
How a man can keep his sanity after a 5 year stretch of solitary is beyond me.The book features crushing blows to his escape plans and demonstrates human perseverance and initiative! He remains throughout modest, and glimpses of his character are seen through his fellow's eyes. Very sad yet inspiring. Third after: 'The Forgotten Soldier' by Guy Sajer, and 'Jupiter's Travels' by Ted Simon.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 13, 2000
I am now almost fifty years old and first read Papillion when in my early twenties. Since then I have read it probably more than another three times over the years. My own life has been filled with incredible turn of events having been a run away in the early 60's to the lower east side of Greenwhich Village as young teenager to being imprisoned with hardened crimanals as a wayward minor because of that. My thoughts of the injustice that Henri Charriere endured helped bring me through my own rough times. His struggles towards freedom and the love of life has paved a way for my own. Since my misfortunes in the 60's a serious of other inevitable misfortunes led me through a journey of inner seekings that to this day is still unraveling and only leads me to find the strengths one has where one never knew. It was the story of Papillion that has inspired me to continue my journey and never fall short of my human potential. So to you Henri I say may your power of the journey be in all of us. A book truly cherished.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 7, 2000
Posted June 30, 2000
I have read Papillon twice now. Once 23 years ago and again this month. It has always gripped my imagination and has remained in the back of my mind since I read it first. It is one of the best books on a real adventure on keeping the bright light of freedom shining, even under the most horrendous and unlikely circumstances. For Papillon an unjustly imprisoned youn French man in the inhuman and barbaric former prison camps of France in French Guyana, where the inmate is thrown into a condition that can only be describe as living hell, the quest for escape to freedom never died inspite of repeated failures, punishments and the death of friends and accomplicies. As his countryman Sartre once commented you can be free even in prison. Freedom is a mental thing and a necessity and Papillon is a champion of what freedom meant to Sartre. The book is a testament and a must read for all those interested in freedom at any cost.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 23, 2011
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Posted March 23, 2009
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Posted October 26, 2008
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