Thursday, May 20, 2010

Week 15: The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz

If this book is evidence of anything, it is that the truth is absolutely stranger - and more brutal - than fiction.

Slavomir "Slav" Rawicz was a survivor in the truest illustration of the word. His book, which was ghost-written by Ronald Downing, is the true account of his escape from a Soviet prison camp in Siberia and his trek to India by way of Mongolia, the Gobi Desert, parts of what is now China, and Tibet to freedom.

After their escape, Slavomir and his brave compatriots traveled more than 4,000 miles on foot, and throughout the journey, they depended on the hospitality of the Mongolian and Tibetan people to help them get through their journey. The trip took a little over a year, and it would change all of their lives forever.

This book was also a stark illustration of the Soviet presence in Europe in the 1940's and the fear that the regime instilled in the neighboring countries. As far south as Tibet, the group was still terrified they would be apprehended and returned to their prision camp, or executed.

In his Afterword, he describes the letters he received from readers as being his "great reward and joy". After reading this, I felt compelled to write to him as well, to thank him for his story and tell him why I loved it. Sadly, Slavomir passed away at the age of 87 in 2004, so I'll never have the opportunity.

For what it's worth, Slav, your story was amazing and inspirational. I'm grateful that you decided to break your silence to write this book. Thank you.

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