"Papillon" is an autobiographical novel by Henri Charrière, written in 1969, in a conversational manner. His life recounting, though full of flashbacks, is done chronologically.
In 1931, Henri Charrière, nicknamed Papillon, is 25 years old when convicted for a murder he did not commit. He is sentenced with life imprisonment to the penal colony of French Guiana in South America, with no possibility for remission.
In French Guiana, Papillon finds a savage place where terrorism, corruption, and murder are commonplace. Papillon has sworn not to serve his unjust sentence, so in 37 days after arriving in the settlement colony, he makes a break for escape with two companions. They travel a thousand miles in a sailboat through cruel seas and scorching heat.
They arrived in Trinidad. Here, Papillon and his companions were overwhelmed by the kind and generous treatment the local people showered them. Their trust in humankind is rekindled and their well-being invigorated. However, this joy seemed short-lived. They are recaptured and forced to sail to another country.
Over 13 years, Papillon makes daring escapes. The atrocities inflicted on him by the prison systems wherever he settled are horrifically inhumane and of utmost cruelty, like the "black hole" where he spends 11 days in darkness with his hands handcuffed behind his back and surviving only on scraps of bread. In Columbia, with the rat infested "death cells," the flood goes to waist level at high tide, leaving behind a thick layer of mud. Papillon undergoes another two years of solitary confinement.
In contrast to all the dastardly inhuman treatments that Papillon underwent, is his seven months of wonderful life with the Goajira Indians, where he finds serenity of mind and soul. It's an uplifting story of immense human endurance that moves a reader to such great depth.