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Retro Review: Papillion

Papillion by Henri Charriere

This is a story of freedom: freedom that must be had at all costs. Papillion (a nickname meaning “butterfly”) is arrested and convicted for a murder he did not commit and sentenced to life imprisonment in French Ghiana, the most ruthless of prison islands in the modern world.

Just over a month later, he makes his first daring escape attempt and sails 1500 miles in a rickety boat only to be caught by French authorities and put in solitary confinement.

Through sheer will and determination, he survives two years of solitary confinement and once again makes an escape attempt. He will not stop until he is finally free.

This is a true story written by the man himself. It vividly portrays life in the French prisons: the “underworld’s” societal class, the cut-throat life behind bars, and the sadistic guards who torment their charges.

Above all, however, it’s a story of the true Man of the West: the man who will be free no matter the cost and regardless of the time it takes to be so. The ultimate goal of Papillion is not to best the guards who keep him, not to change the world, or not to destroy that which binds him. The ultimate goal of Papillion is simply to “live free or die.

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