The Long Walk is so cinematic that you have to wonder why it has never been made into a movie. The story of seven men who escaped from a Soviet labor camp during World War II, it has within it both pathos and small slices of humor, and primarily adventure, adventure, adventure. Though you know that the author (it was an "as told to" book but credit was given to Rawicz, who spoke only rudimentary English) survived, you often have to wonder how.
Rawicz is the ringleader of the group of escapees and chooses for his companions men strong enough and determined. Had anyone known what the rigors of the trek would be, perhaps they would have accepted their sentences; conditions in the camp are harsh but not unbearable. Rawicz is a patriot who endured months of torture at the hands of the Russians, "confessing" to non-existent crimes only when drugged. He is
twenty-five. He wants to rejoin his troops and his young wife at any cost, or die trying.
In the first phase of their bold escape, the men, who have fashioned a knife and stolen an axe from the prison and
are aided by the camp's commandant and his wife, merely have to dodge the guards and the peasants, heading relentlessly south. Their goal is to reach India, which they know is ruled by the decent English, and where they are certain they will find asylum. But to get there, they must pass through the vast Gobi desert and then the Himalayas. Along the way, they take on the care of a teenage Polish girl, a fellow escapee from a labor camp. Protecting her becomes part of their mission.
Once the group enters the desert, with only one uncovered container for water and a few dried fish that last only a few days, their situation becomes increasingly perilous. They reach an oasis, but since there is no food there they must leave, unable to take water with them. The girl succumbs to heat and dies quietly in the sand. Another muddy water hole is found and there they realize, directed by an American who is part of the group, that snakes are edible. Snakes become their mono-diet for weeks to come. Yet another of the party dies in the desert before the terrain begins to change.
In the foothills of the Himalayas they enter Mongolia, where they rarely have a common language yet are treated with extraordinary kindness by everyone they encounter. Avoiding villages and towns as much as possible, still aware that they are escaped prisoners without papers and vulnerable to official attention, they are guided along the way by the natives and given provisions by shepherds and even one man occupying a cave.
The mountains have their own dangers - the men know that if they fall asleep without a fire they will surely die. One long night shivering, unable to light a fire and desperately craving sleep, is all they can bear. They are near death but nearer than they know to freedom. The following night, they find an unoccupied shepherd's cave laden with firewood, food and fleeces. It is the only time during the journey that they took anything that didn't belong to them.
To tell more would spoil this magnificent story, but suffice it to say a story about the Himalayas which does not include a yeti sighting is not worth telling, so you will not be disappointed. If you've ever wondered how much the human body can endure, without food, without water, in the world's highest mountains and the world's largest expanses of sand, both hunted and hunting as it creeps along, inspired by only the most basic desire - to live another day - then you will find in The Long Walk a page-turner par excellence.