"Papillon" by Henri Charriere (1970)
"The Arab was still making his rounds, inspecting the work, and one fine day we knocked him out with the handle of an axe and dragged him to the ants' nest. We stripped him and tied him to a tree, bent backwards on the ground, his hands a feet tied with the thick ropes we used for the logs. We made a few cuts here and there on his body with the axe. We stuffed his mouth with grass, held in by a gag, so he couldn't shout; and we waited. The ants didn't go for him till we'd stirred their nest with a stick and sprinkled them on to him. Then it didn't take long. Half an hour later there were thousands and thousands of ants at work. Have you seen flesh-eating ants, Papillon?"
Henri Charriere, a.k.a. Papillon, was convicted of manslaughter in 1931 and sentenced to life imprisonment in French Guiana. He spent the next 14 years of his life there, attempting to escape whenever the opportunity arose. Papillon offers his reflections on that experience.
Patrick O'Brian, of Master and Commander fame, did the translation. I think his choice of 30s American gangster slang is very appropriate, and a more "contemporary" translation would have been less accessible. Hearing prison guards referred to as "screws" just works for some reason.
Beyond the above, I don't have much to say about Papillon - aside from the fact that it's a great book. Providing details of Papillon's various escapes seems like giving too much away, and in the absence of such details there's not a lot to be said about his time in French, Colombian, and Venezuelan prisons. There have been accusations of plagiarism and outright fabrication directed at Charriere, but I feel that these accusations are somewhat peripheral to the book, and that they are better approached after one has finished Papillon.
I'll be seeing the movie soon. Hopefully it's at least half as good as the book.*
"Green Island" by Shawna Yang Ryan (2016)
"The Martian" by Andy Wier (2011)
"Arrival" by Ted Chiang (2015)
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead (2016)
*Saw the movie. Pretty boring if you ask me. The book is much better!