I mentioned this book by Slavomir Rawicz last week when Kristin gave it to me as a birthday gift and now that I'm a mere three dozen pages from finishing it, I have to say, in no uncertain terms, that it is one of the most amazing stories I've ever read. And I cannot imagine forgetting the details of this impossible story any time soon, if ever. No, the magnitude of the author's struggle to escape from a Siberian prison camp will probably be something I remember forever.
Originally published in 1956, "The Long Walk" is the autobiographical telling of Slavomir Rawicz's unfortunate time in Russia. He was a Polish soldier in World War II, fighting the Germans as a member of a cavalry division. When he returned home to his village on the border near Russia, he was apprehended at once. The Russians were convinced he was a spy. He spent 18 months in Russian prisons, suffering brutal interrogations and forced to live in conditions fit for neither rats nor roaches. He is eventually sentenced to 25 years of hard labor in Siberia.
His journey to Siberia took place in winter and not only included several weeks on an uninsulated train car packed with dozens of other prisoners, but also an 1100 mile trek northward, as a member of a chain-gang, through three Siberian blizzards. For forty days, through the dead of winter, they marched from the southern tip of Lake Baikal to Yakutsk, just south of the Arctic Circle. No gloves. No hat. Canvas shoes without socks.
He and six others eventually fled the prison camp and journey southward -- on FOOT! -- out of Siberia, through Mongolia, across the Gobi Desert, through the Himalaya, and all the way to the Indian Ocean and freedom.
To help you envision the route they took, I traced out a rough approximation on Google Maps. The line is over 3000 miles long.
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The first third of this book will leave you shaking your head in disbelief at the savage cruelty humans can inflict on one another. The rest of the book is an incomparable testament to the human will to be free and its ability to endure the harshest of conditions. It's also about the limitless generosity that exists within compassionate strangers. In the span of a hundred pages you will hear a first-hand account of the very worst and best we humans have to offer.
It is impossible to read this book and not think it fabricated, but it's not. It's real. It is also impossible to read this book and ever again feel justified in thinking you have it tough or that quitting a difficult task would ever be truly necessary. What these men went through is so far beyond what rational people would consider possible, it just boggles the mind.
This is sure to be a tale that's details occupy a space in my memory for decades to come.
Get your copy here.