Henri Charrière
Papillon (1969)
Reviewed: 1995-07-28

Set in the 1930s and '40s, supposedly autobiographic, this book tells the story of a petty French criminal, called Papillon (butterfly) after a tattoo on his chest, who, though innocent, is convicted of manslaughter and sentenced for life to forced labor in the penal colony of French Guyana. What follows is more than a decade of attempts to escape from what is best described as hell on Earth.

Papillon is a heart-rending tale of an unjustifiably cruel penal system, human courage, endurance, helpfulness, trust, as well as misery, and incredible instances of sadism, curruption and forced insanity. The story has also been made into a movie, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Huffman, which although excellent, is much shorter than the book and quite different.

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