Papillon is a memoir by convicted felon and fugitive Henri Charrière. First published in France in 1969 it describes his escape from a penal colony in French Guyana. The book is an account of a 14 year period in Henri's life, from 1931 to 1945. It claims that he was wrongly convicted for murder and sentenced to hard labor at the Devil's Island penal colony.
All along I thought it was very real and true experiences, but recently read that in an interview before he died, the publisher, Robert Laffont, admitted that the book was originally submitted to him as a novel. Laffont specialised in real-life adventures, and persuaded Charrière to release it as if it were an autobiography.
Not all the events and jails which he describes correspond to the time frame of the events in the book. It is best regarded as a narrative novel, depicting the adventures of several of Charrière's fellow inmates, among them Charles Brunier.
The book's title was based on Charrière's nickname, derived from a butterfly tattoo on his chest, papillon being the French word for 'butterfly'.
The movie Papillon (starring Dustin Hoffman) does little justice to the book and the adventures described within.
I was 13-14 years old at the time I first read this book and re-read couple of chapters time and again as they awed me and kindled my imagination more than any other book including gangster and mafia books. Although they're not in the same class, only other gangster book that held my attention much wasThe Godfather by Mario Puzo.
Do you know of any other gangster/mafia biographies that are similarly enchanting and kept you glued until the end?
Hi Manny, I remember reading this book and loving it when I was younger. And my reaction to watching the movie was similar to yours. Book was great, movie not great at all. The character of Papillon was played by Steve McQueen, and Dustin Hoffman was in a supporting role.