Book Review: Henri Charrière’s Papillon

Originally published:  April 30, 1969

Author:  Henri Charrière

Page count:  516 (French)

Original language:  French

Country:  France

Genre:  Autobiographical Fiction

Henri Charrière, a French man called ‘Papillon’ for the butterfly tattoo on his chest, tell us the true story of his life. He was falsely imprisoned at the age of 25, and from that day on, his main purpose was to escape and eventually go back to France to get his revenge on the people who put him in jail.

His journey takes him to different countries and on many adventures, such as trying to survive the South American jungle and the absolute silence of the cells of isolation. With his stubborn perseverance, the power of his mind and the loyalty of his friends, Papillon gets through his dreadful adversity.



When Papillon was published, in 1970, it sold millions, becoming one of the best sellers of all time. I read this book two years ago on my father’s recommendation, and now it’s me who will tell you about it, so you can also enjoy this incomparable novel.

Henri Charriere, author and protagonist of this book, also known as Papillon, narrates the story of his life in a simple and familiar way that makes you feel as if he was already a friend and he was telling you this story over a cup of coffee.

Yet, his narration expresses all the suffering and anguish that he endures, it makes you ‘get in his shoes’ and transports you to the places, situations and experiences he lived. You get so into the story that it is really difficult to stop reading. Papillon tells us his adventures and experiences during his 13 years in captivity, the tough treatment that he suffered from the guards and his cleverness to survive and overcome the terrible conditions. While he shows us the injustice of prison life, he has a free soul and he keeps fighting for his freedom without giving up, even through failures and punishments.

He also talks about the humanity that he finds in the middle of so much misery, the importance of friendship, loyalty, honor and honesty. You get to know the characters that Papillon meets in his journey, their stories, their qualities and defects, their dreams…

The generosity comes not only from his friends, it also comes from the people that don’t even know him but help him in his purpose of escaping and give him food and shelter, even though they might not have it for themselves. Charrière shows us how sometimes ‘civilization’ forgets what is most important: the people who are part of it.

This story, told 20 years after it happened, can become a little fictional, but it still has the power to amaze the reader. And even when the end is not a surprise, it is so thrilling and intense that you sigh with relief when he finally achieves freedom and you can finally breathe.

I really recommend this book, and I am sure you will do the same when you read it, not only for its action and adventures, but because it talks about the important things in life and it leaves you thinking after reading it. It is one of those books that you remember and you will never get tired of talking about.

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