A Tall Story?

This is my review of The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom by Slavomir Rawicz.

Initially taking this tale at face value, I felt that I should take a positive view of it out of respect for the courage of the escaped political prisoners who showed such resourcefulness and persistence in their determination to survive. However, although it was relatively short and easy to read, I found the book all too easy to put down. This was partly because the incidents which would have been full of tensions and mishaps in a self-confessed adventure story were so straightforward: the escapees scaled prison walls without attracting notice, no dogs pursued them, everyone they met was friendly and gave them food, when hunger drove them to steal and slaughter an animal it all went without a hitch, and so on. Admittedly half the group died on the way, but I am not introducing a spoiler here: the author removes all suspense by telling us in the completely unnecessary chapter headings listed in the contents page how many people died and where. "Five By-Pass Lhasa" reminded me of a kind of "Enid Blyton meets Biggles" approach to it all. The characters were all somewhat two dimensional, and the rapid deaths without much warning or build up left me less moved than I should have been.

It could be argued that the lack of real action and personal drama reflected the fact we are dealing with a true story. However, consulting Amazon half-way through my reading, I found comments on the strong evidence that this tale is a pastiche of the story of another man's escape. I have no idea whether this is true or not, but it supported the doubts which had already arisen quite independently. My two first major queries arose over the fact that the narrator was able to repair the camp commandant's radio purely on the happily coincidental basis of having had the same model at home. This gave him convenient access to the commandant's wife, who not only spoke to him with the most surprising informality, but virtually incited him to escape, advised him on how to do so, and contributed to equipping him and his colleages to boot! As other reviewers have commented, the subsequent amazing capacity to cross the Gobi Desert without water, and the sight of the Abominable Snowmen were the final nails in the coffin of my belief. Out of all the characters, Kristina seemed to me to be the least convincing. I wondered if she was created to add a little more drama and was not surprised that she was the first to be eliminated from the tale.

I am sorry if I am misjudging this book.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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