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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Review: The Long Walk (1955)

A memoir. I actually read a memoir. It's the first memoir I've ever read, and I think one of the best I ever will read. It's also an example of the tried and true principle that my good old Uncle Bill always has good books for me to read. It even inspired the movie The Way Back, and I was so excited to find a film adaptation of this fantastic book.

The Long Walk tells the incredible story of Slavomir Rawicz's escape from a Soviet labor camp with seven and later eight companions. They brave the harsh environments of Siberia, the Gobi Desert, Tibet, and the Himalayas, all in an effort to escape to the safety of India. From Rawicz' interrogation by the NKVD, to encounters with shepherds in Tibet, to their spotting a pair of strange, bipedal creatures in the Himalayas, this tome leaves no stone unturned, no encounter left silent. This account is epic in scale, gritty, heartbreaking, and occasionally funny. It's a story of perseverance, survival, freedom, camaraderie, and hope.

This not a tale of just one man, no, far from it. We are told from Rawicz's point of view of his nine companions, including the big and big hearted Kolemenos, the humorous Zaro, the sole female, Kristina, and the American Mr. Smith (most of the others had names which were very hard to pronounce, let alone spell). These delightful cast members are all well rounded and individualized. They all make you care about them, though some more than others. They're all very human, which is just the sort of thing you'd expect in a real life, honest to goodness memoir.

Rawicz is a good narrator, and we really get inside his head. We feel every sensation, we hear every word spoken, we experience every loss he is struck with. He tells his story well, relaying it with that special spark that all stories worth hearing have.

I'm also partial to the book's shockingly frank tale of life under the communist regime in Russia. Rawicz relates how he was interrogated endlessly, drugged into signing a confession, and stuck in front of a kangaroo court where he was sentenced for "espionage." The basis of his guilt? Living in the eastern half of Poland automatically categorized him as a Polish spy in the eyes of his Russian captors. This perversion of justice is just one example of many in a communist police state.

This book should be read by everyone. Mind you though, it's not exactly meant for younger readers. Although there is a minimal amount of swearing, it can get rather intense as the party goes from situation to embattled situation. Nothing particularly graphic, but still pretty sad. I'd recommend it for ages fifteen and up.

RATING: 10/10

Image courtesy of goodreads.com