Henri Charrière was a French criminal and writer. Convicted as a murderer by the French courts, he is known as the author of Papillon (1968), a memoir of his incarceration in and escape from Devil's Island, a penal colony in French Guiana. While Charrière claimed that Papillon was largely true, modern researchers believe that much of the book’s material came from other inmates, rather than Charrière himself. To his final days Charrière strenuously denied his murder conviction, however he freely admitted to having committed various other petty crimes prior to his incarceration.
In Papillon, Henri describes his successful escape from Devil's Island, with a companion, Sylvain. They used two sacks filled with coconuts to act as lifebuoys. According to Charrière, the two men leaped into heavy seas from a cliff and drifted to the mainland over a period of three days. Sylvain died in quicksand a short distance from the shore. From then Henri (Papillon) was to meet the man of the name Cuic-Cuic who would help him escape again to the freedom he always wanted. But he was caught again and served in the Bagne at El Dorado where he would soon become free for life and live in Venezuela.
Charrière's account aroused considerable controversy. French authorities disputed it and released penal colony records that contradicted his account. Charrière had never been imprisoned on Devil's Island. He had escaped from a mainland prison. French journalists or prison authorities disputed other elements of his book and said that he had invented many incidents or appropriated experiences of other prisoners. Critics said he should have admitted his book was fiction.
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