The Long Walk - Slavomir Rawicz
Non-Fiction - Biography - ISBN: 1558216847
3 reviews from the community
Review of "The Long Walk - Slavomir Rawicz"
Bit worried about my wife's driving. She told me the other day that she nearly ran over a squirrell on her way to work - hey, this is an animal that LIVES IN A TREE!!
This book tells of such a journey.
Try to imagine, if you will, undertaking a trek from close to the Arctic Circle in Siberia to India, crossing half-frozen wastes and the fearsome Gobi Desert, as well as the mountains of Tibet. It’s a journey of around 4,000 miles and will take about a year to complete.
It’s no backpacking adventure, however, far less a carefully planned journey with accommodation pre-booked or with makeshift camps provided en route by a support team. It’s a flight from hard labour in a Russian “gulag”. The first section of the journey entails avoiding detection and re-capture. It’s a journey without tents, and with scant provision, most food and water being foraged or, later, freely donated, on the way. It’s a journey without maps, tents, cooking equipment or utensils, or a box of matches. It’s a journey where clothes and footwear have to be repaired along the way, and moccasins crafted from leather.It’s a journey undertaken initially by seven men, joined by an additional fellow fugitive along the way, a seventeen-year old girl.
It’s a journey that would claim the lives of some of the travellers. Days at a time without food, shelter or water in the desert and the Himalayan mountains would take their toll. Those who survived the entire journey were in fact far sicker than they realised. Would they survive the damage their bodies had sustained even with intensive hospital treatment?It’s a true story. It’s a story that I found gripping, harrowing, yet also uplifting.
The backgroundThe author was a Polish cavalry officer who took part in what was probably the last cavalry charge in Europe, against the Germans in 1939.
He was arrested by the Russians at his homecoming party, accused of being a spy. He was held in desperate privation, some of the time in an uncleaned cell so tiny that there was only room to stand. His refusal to confess to his “crime” (sensing that to do so would meet certain death) met with sustained hardship, beatings and torture.Eventually he was sentenced to twenty-five years’ hard labour in Siberia. His journey there, with hundreds of other similarly accused “criminals” was one of further extreme deprivation. The first part was in crowded railway cattle trucks with little food or water; the second part was on foot, handcuffed to chains towed by lorries. Many died on the way.
The planSlavomir Rawicz had a grim determination to escape if at all possible. The book tells how he found others willing to join him, and also of help from a totally unexpected quarter. I felt like cheering at times as the prospect of escape began to turn from dream to a distinct possibility, then to reality!
The escapeEscape was only one part of the problem. The gulags were specially located to make evasion or survival difficult if a prisoner managed to get out.
And, as already indicated, survival entailed more than simply surviving the Siberian wastes and avoiding re-capture. It entailed finding a way out of Russia itself – and across neighbouring countries – without supplies or money.
I was struck by the bind that established itself between the seven men, and also with the girl they met on their trek; their protection of her was devoted, and her trust in them total. It makes for moving reading.Apart from their determination – even in the blistering heat of the Gobi Desert – another thing that struck me was the daily life-and-death choices that they had to make. For example, in the Gobi Desert, should they remain at an oasis that had recently been visited by a camel train, in the hope of being given food? At least the oasis provided shelter and water. But in the absence of food, how long might they have to wait for the next people to come by? Would they survive until then?
I also marvelled at some of their quick thinking, the way that they reached decisions (despite different temperaments and nationalities) and pulled together once the decisions had been reached. It’s hard, too, not to be grateful (on their behalf) at the pooled skills and knowledge that they had – skinning and preparing animals they caught, knowing how best to manage meagre resources, and improvising basic tools and clothing.Their inventiveness also made a strong impression upon me. The discovery of some strong wire which they cut into lengths and carried with them proved to save their lives in the Himalayas. Similarly, they were able to improvise a means of anchoring a rope when climbing – a “waisted” almost figure-of-eight stone that they attached to the rope.
I also enjoyed the stark contrast between the implacable attitude of their Russian captors with the kindness that they met on the later part of their trek, even from people who themselves were living in great poverty.Most of the narrative revolves around events, but there are some vivid descriptions of people and places, too, and some moving recollections of feelings and reactions.
I also found the account very honest; the author is slow to take credit to himself, and he is also honest about some bad decisions and feelings of guilt.
Aw, come on, you don’t think I’d spoil the potential read of this book like that, do you?!
I rate this 5 stars. It’s a truly unique story that would make a Hollywood blockbuster (which would, of course also ruin the tale by exaggeration and altering the facts!)I LIKED…
~ ~ ~ ~ the subject matter. Phrases like “remarkable” and “amazing” are often overworked (not least by me in my reviews!) but I think this tale truly is both unique and compelling~ ~ ~ ~ the style is easy to read and free of grammatical errors – sorry, I know I’m pedantic, but the editors of commercial publishing houses don’t always do their job properly, and I’m old and curmudgeonly enough to consider this disrespectful both to author and reader alike!
~ ~ ~ ~ the maps. One shows the transportation route from Moscow to the gulag; the other – which the author freely admits – shows the APPROXIMATE route of the escape~ ~ ~ ~ it makes for a moving read, at times harrowing, at others exciting, sometimes poignant and at others uplifting
~ ~ ~ ~ the author’s honesty, and the equal credit he gives to each member of the “team”
I WAS LESS KEEN ON…
~ ~ ~ ~ nothing really, apart from some of the tragedies and accounts of inhumanity (I say this tongue-in-cheek, of course; these are key ingredients of the author’s story)
I found this in my local The Works; it’s listed on their website at £7.99, though I’m pretty sure I paid less than that for my copy. Amazon are offering this as new paperback at £8.99; I had to search for it as such, as it wasn’t readily displayed. They also offer Kindle edition for just £2.99 – almost enough to tempt me to go down the E-book route! Foyles and Waterstones both offer the paperback for £8.99
Also recommended (unable to review as proposal declined):LEE TRIMBLE WITH JEREMY DRONFIELD: “Beyond The Call – The True Story Of One World War II Pilot’s Covert Mission To Rescue PoWs On The Eastern Front”
This book deals with a hitherto secret to rescue both Allied Prisoners of War and unfortunate foreign civilians and refugees who found themselves trapped behind Russian lines at the close and early aftermath of the War. If I were able to review it I’d award it4 stars.
© 2mennycds August 2017
Some quotations:“No prisoner can forget Kharkov. In pain and filth and degradation they try to turn a man into a whimpering beast.”
“How much can a man stand, weakened with ill-feeding and physical violence, stand? The limit of endurance, I found, was long after a tortured body had cried in agony for relief.”“From reindeer to camels – now I have seen everything!”
“The heat enveloped us, sucking the moisture from our bodies, putting ankle-irons of lethargy about our legs… As we still walked in the rays of the setting sun the fear hit me again. It was, of course, the most fundamental fear of all – that we should die here in the burning wilderness. I struggled against a panicky impulse to urge a return the way we had come, back to water and green things and life. I fought it down.”
Product Information : The Long Walk - Slavomir Rawicz
Manufacturer's product descriptionNon-Fiction - Biography - ISBN: 1558216847
Author: Slavomir Rawicz
Title: The Long Walk
Listed on Ciao since: 18/04/2001