by Henri Charriere


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061120664
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/01/2006
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 25,245
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.92(d)

About 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.

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...

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Papillon 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read it
momma2 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
This was an excellent true account, as well as an excellent movie.
dperrings on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I did not find the story credible.David Perrings
jayne_charles on LibraryThing 10 months ago
If you believe this is all true (as it's supposed to be) then it's surely one of the best and most exciting real life stories of all time. Even if you don't believe it (and some of the bits seemed to have been exaggerated) it's still one heck of a gripping read. The endless stretches of solitary confinement, which could have been boring, made for some of the most haunting reading I have encountered in literature.It was fascinating to hear about the protocol of escaping from a penal colony. Arriving after one successful breakout on an island under British administration, the French escapees immediately start acting like Brits - I had expected them to immediately go underground, but instead they presented themselves at the consulate (queueing, no doubt) before reporting themselves as escaped prisoners from a penal colony! To which they were effectively told 'Jolly good, chaps, off you go now!' Incredible!
keninipswich on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Wonderful story about a prisoner and his decades long attempts to escape from his life sentence in a French colonial prison. The story had a lot in common with Hugo's Les Miserables in terms of his treatment by those who knew that he was an escaped convict. There were those that were kind beyond belief and others that were cruel for no good reason. Of course, throughout, there was the question of God and "his" hand in his life.
Karen_Wells on LibraryThing 10 months ago
This is one of the handful of books that changed me inside. To read Papillon is to know what the human spirit can endure, is to find out what courage truly is. Some people say the author lied, or at least gilded his story. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't - I don't care. I only read this the once, twenty years ago, and would never do so again; I'm too jaded now, and I'd be disappointed. Some memories are best left alone. If you think you've got problems, read this book and realize you haven't.
aethercowboy on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Henri Charriere, AKA Papillon, was wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of a man. He was sentenced to life and hard labor in a French penal colony. The man, feeling unjustly treated, was plagued by an urge to escape and seek vengeance on those that put him there.[Papillon] tells the semi-autobiographical tale surrounding these fourteen years of Charriere's life. It reads more like an adventure novel than an autobiography, and is gripping until the last page. All the while, you find yourself rooting for the convict, hoping that his plan succeeds (and one of them does, as the text makes you aware throughout). Each chapter you hope is the last one, but not because it's poorly written. You just want to see Papillon lose his shackles and fly away.This book is a must read for fans of fiction dealing with prison escapes.
Rhysickle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A rubbish book. The man's ego and self-serving accounts render the story less than credible and utterly tedious.The first book I have failed to finish in years.
hennis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I did not like the pretentious tone of the author. Although there were some interesting passages, his ego disgusted me throughout the book.
aimeegrubel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The sheer magnitude of the story kept me turning the pages! Papillon lived so intensely, making no apologies for his history or his actions. I have told his story to any friend who has enough time to listen since I finished the book. I also found his writing style fit the story appropriately.
eleanor_eader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Remarkable true taleI was blown away by this book ... by the strength of character displayed by the author (admittedly not always a character to be unreservedly liked), by the mad adventures he undertook, and by the amazing richness of a life that a court tried to throw into a hole and forget about.There is something so fundamentally heartening about Papillon¿s refusal to remain incarcerated for a crime he did not commit (though he ends his tale by admitting that he was a character ripe to be accused of it) that his escape attempts, his adventures, his successes and failures can only be followed with a mixture of ¿ if not always approval ¿ admiration and whole-hearted hope that things should end well for him. Despite some flaws of character and a style of writing that descends here and there into occasional egotistical self-approval, one cannot help agreeing with the friends of Papillon who declare him worthy of loyalty and every help in his escape attempts. The brutal harshness of the French penal system, the incredible richness of life that he encounters on his breaks, the amazing friendships that he forges, the moments of genuine horror that he witnesses are described vividly and with a well-paced flair for narrative that isn¿t lost with translation. Papillon may ¿ like any person ¿ have been capable of blunt actions and mistakes, but his credit lies in the fact that, in the face of such dismal prospect, he tried to remain a man who considered what was honourable while refusing to compromise his single-minded goal¿ to be free.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great perspective of a prisoners life.
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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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