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Slovomir Rawicz, The Long Walk
The True Story of a Trek to Freedom
© 2013 James LaFond
Slavomir Rawicz
The Lyon’s Press, London, 1956, 1984, 1997, 242 pages [1997 edition]
A Review by James LaFond from July 2012
Slav was an officer in the Polish Army at the outbreak of World War Two. He participated in and witnessed some of the last cavalry charges in military history. Later he was arrested by the Soviets, tortured and deported to a Siberian lumber camp. This book is his story and the story of his seven companions, four of whom did not survive.
Once I had an argument with a relative who insisted that if I were an Argentine soccer player stranded on a mountain that I would eat my friends. She pointed out that all people eat people when in dire need of food. I stated that I would rather starve than eat my loyal dog. She replied that I did not know my own self, and would surely become a cannibal like every other castaway if ever I found myself among a band of unsupplied survivors. I wish I had read this book at that time, that I had possessed a copy to waive in her face and say, “These people starved for months on end, went 13 days without water once, and never even considered the cannibalism option.”
Thanks to the help of a British journalist the book is crafted in charming English. The bluntly titled chapters and table of contents serve to heighten the suspense. If a novelist were asked to write an adventure about eight fugitives armed with only a knife and an axe, forced to flee 4000 miles across some of the earth’s most extreme climates, he certainly would have failed to include much of what the reader finds in this narrative; those intangibles that both threatened and sustained these desperate escapees from a deeply evil world gone mad.
As raw adventure, this story of Soviet incarceration, a winter trek through Siberia, a summer of horror in the Gobi Desert, and a winter ascent of the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas, has everything you need for gripping reality entertainment. But its biggest strength is the demonstration of human dignity and unshakable companionship under the worst of circumstances. Nobody gets eaten!
My own extreme walking experiences are most often brought back to me when I reread The Long Walk, the most important book I have yet cracked open, including religious texts. I purchased this book in 1988 and read it every five years or so. I have given a copy to a friend who was headed to prison, and keep my late Father’s memorial notice under the dust cover flap.
Dad was the only working class person I have known who never used the routine parting gesture of our class, “Don’t work too hard.”
Dad always said, “Work hard.” So, for me, the book I just reviewed is a personal motivational talisman of sorts. When I read it I feel lucky to have had the chance to experience some harrowing walks; walks that pale before a typical day-march of the year of trudging engaged in by the author and his companions in their epic bid for freedom. All of us fighters, mountain climbers and extreme sports people should remember that our little recreational adventures are just a taste, a cultural memory, of the real seemingly endless hells endured by many of our forbearers.
You have to read it.
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