The Long Walk (1956, with Ronald Downing) by Slavomir Rawicz (1915-2004) is presented as the "true story" of a 4,000 mile trek in 1941-42: an escape from a Siberian prison camp in the USSR, southward across frozen wastelands, the Gobi Desert, and the Himalayan Mountains to reach India. Parts of the book ring true --- but there is no independent confirmation for large sections of the narrative. Many of the author's claims are hard to believe: survival for long periods of time with no water, extreme ice-cliff climbing without equipment or training, and the purported observation of Yeti-like creatures. Hmmmm!

Nonetheless, The Long Walk is reasonably well-written and at times quite inspirational. For example, from Chapter VII ("Life in Camp 303"), a Solzhenitsyn-like description:

I used to lie on my bunk in the long evenings looking up to the smoke vent twenty feet above me and think about it all. There would be men talking quietly, some of them visitors from other huts. Words and disconnected sentences would reach me ... names of places, and prisons and Army regiments. ... "She said, 'Darling, don't worry, it will be all over soon, and I will still be here'." ... A snippet of conversation about the guard who didn't get out of the way as the tree groaned and broke and fell the wrong way. ... "Poor bastard, he won't get any real treatment for that smashed leg of his." ... There was talk of somebody who had got his ribs bruised. "He's doing all right for himself --- light duties cleaning out the officers' mess and plenty of tobacco to be picked up." ... It would flow around me, a half-noticed background to my own thoughts. The pine smell and the warmth and the movement of men clanging open the tops of the stoves to stoke up with bright-burning wood. And all the time my mind juggling with pictures of the stockaded camp and Ushakov and the Politruk and the soldiers (how many of them died?) and always the men about me, the young ones like me who were resilient and quick to recover, the forty-year-olds who surprisingly (to me, then) moved slowly but with great reserves of courage and strength, and the over-fifties who fought to stay young, to work, to live, the men who had lived leisured lives and now, marvelously, displayed the guts to face a cruel new life very bravely. They should have been telling tales to their devoted grandchildren, these oldsters. Instead they spent their days straining and lifting at the great fallen trees, working alongside men who were often half their age. There is a courage which flourishes in the worst kind of adversity and it is quite unspectacular. These men had it in full.

(see also SingleDigitRun (15 Jan 2004), InSearchOfTheFulcrum (19 Mar 2004), ... )

TopicLiterature - TopicLife - 2004-05-31

(correlates: CrudeMetrics, PortmanteauWords, RaceForTheSoul, ...)