Book Review: The Long Walk–Slavomir Rawicz

longwalkI don’t read non-fiction, not related to writing or software development, very often.  I will read historical fiction, but in general, I read books in my leisure time to get away from the real world; to immerse myself in a world that may be believable, but I can always hold out hope that these things did not, or could not happen, because they are fiction.  Sure, they may be inspired by real life, but the names have been changed and the world is somehow different and isolated.  I don’t want to read about bad things happening to real people.  It’s one of the reasons why I don’t watch the news as much as I used to.  I have kids, and every time I hear about something bad happening to someone, I realize that was someone’s child.  It could have been my child.

I stumbled across Slavomir Rawicz’s book The Long Walk in a bookstore in McMinnville, Oregon while on vacation.  It looked like a book I would be interested in reading because it was, primarily, a story about survival against the elements of nature.  It is a true story (as best I can tell, though there is some debate as to whether or not some aspects were fictionalized):  interned at a labor camp in Siberia during the height of World War II, Rawicz and a small band of other escaped prisoners make a 4000 mile journey from Siberia to India, across the frozen lands of Siberia, the Mongolian Steppe, the Chinese Gobi desert, and the Himalayas of Nepal.  It is a brutal story of incredible fortitude, difficult choices, and a harsh world.  The men make mistakes – there is no doubt of that – mistakes, that with a better knowledge of geography they might have been able to avoid.

But before you can get to the story of survival against the elements, you have to get through the story of what Rawicz survived in the Russian prison system. Rawicz, a Polish army officer is accused of being a spy, and through months of brutal interrogation, refuses to sign his name to a confession of crimes he never committed.  The description of this cruelty leaves little room for the timid to ignore these despicable acts.  And because this is non-fiction, you cannot pretend hat these weren’t human beings perpetrating these atrocities.  Somewhere along the way, the human race has failed, and produced these monsters, and you understand why, sometimes, war is necessary.

But most of all, you marvel at the strength of the human spirit, and I find myself wondering if I could have survived those months in captivity, and those months inside a freezing cattle cars on the way to Siberia, let alone the trek to freedom after the escape.  My answer is unequivocally, No.   I’m not that strong of a person, either physically or emotionally.  I wouldn’t last a day under these conditions.

This is a a really good book.  It flows well, and you can’t stop turning the pages.  It’s definitely worth the read.