Summer choices for reluctant readers: Henri Charriere’s Papillon

Henri Charriere's Papillon is a classic adventure tale and indictment of the French penal system.

ORIGINAL POST: Anne Murphy and her daughter Hannah Duehren will be heading back to Massachusetts tonight after a brief and eventful few days here in the Chicago area.

Anne mentioned that her son Andrew is a “reluctant reader,”  a frequent phenomenon among adolescent boys, and asked for recommendations that might pique his interest.

I’ve given her copies of Running with the Buffaloes and White King, Red Queen, both of which I’ve written about before.

I also mentioned Papillon, Henri Charriere’s classic tale of his unvanquished spirit and insatiable quest for freedom.

Papillon is the French word for butterfly, and Charriere had one tattooed on his chest.  Like many criminals, Charriere says he was imprisoned for a murder that he didn’t commit (He does not deny his criminal behavior, and, in fact, toward the end of the book, avows that he might have deserved the punishment he got.).

No matter.  He found himself confined to Devil’s Island in French Guiana in the early 1930s.

He had received a life sentence.

Undeterred, Charriere tried time and time to break out of the prison, finally succeeding on his ninth attempt.  His being captured at different points led him to years in solitary confinement, where he kept his sanity by walking for sixteen and seventeen hours per day.

After one of his successful attempts, he finds himself in a tropical paradise, where he ends up marrying and impregnating two wives.  The siren call of civilization as he knew it and his family proves too strong, though, so he leaves to return to France, where he is promptly arrested and sentenced to the two years of confinement mentioned above.

Unbroken, Charriere continues his quest to escape until he ultimately succeeds.

Papillon is full with memorable characters and gripping details-I still wince when I think about he and other prisoners shoving the “plan”, a small tube with valuables, up their anuses to preserve their fortunes-and suffused with Charriere’s unconquerable soul and passion to be free.

In addition to being a cracking adventure tale, Papillon is also a stirring indictment of the French penal system.

I don’t know if Andrew will nibble on this, but I hope you will and let me know what you think.


2 responses to “Summer choices for reluctant readers: Henri Charriere’s Papillon

  1. I have a few lists for reluctant boy readers that I’d like to share with you:

    Favorite Books for Reluctant Boy Readers:

    Top 100 for YA in 2010:
    (chosen for the reluctant reader in mind. Check out their non-fiction section. Has some great stuff).

    Pragmatic Mom
    Type A Parenting for the Modern World
    I blog on children’s lit, education and parenting

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Pragmatic Mom, for sharing your list. I’ll put your comment in as an update!

      Good luck with your project.


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