This ‘true story’ is an account by Sławomir Rawicz of how he, along with several others escaped a Siberian gulag and trekked across Asia to freedom. You’ll have noticed that I put ‘true story’ in inverted commas, that is because there’s been much debate at to the authenticity of this story. Some say it’s true, some say it’s true but not of Rawicz, others say it’s fiction and others think it’s a composite of various people’s memoirs. I don’t know which is correct, so I’ll just treat it like any other story.
So, after enduring plenty of graphic torture, Rawicz was sentenced to a lengthy stint in the wilderness of Siberia. The convicts were transported to Irkutsk and then made to walk 650 km to their camp. Many didn’t make it, but those that did were perhaps toughened up by this freezing trek. After about a year in the gulag, Rawicz, along with six other inmates decide they’ve had enough and manage to escape in the midst of a blizzard.
Forced to avoid all towns, they head south in the belief that the authorities won’t look for them in that direction. Foraging for food, stealing and hunting, the group make their way across the Gobi desert and Himalayas, picking up a young girl along the way in order to help her survive and find freedom. Finally they manage to seek refuge in British India.
This is certainly a far fetched tale. Rawicz claims that they walked for 11 months and covered 6500km (around 4000 miles for those who, like me prefer the old measurements). Not only the distance, but the terrain is crazy – deserts and mountains – it’s no wonder the authorities didn’t think to look there! Perhaps unsurprisingly, not everybody survived the trek. I won’t say who here, because it’s a bit of a spoiler, but already you know at least one guy who survived!
It’s written more like a factual account, rather than an emotional memoir, but it’s very easy to read and exciting throughout, whether you believe it or not. It was also the inspiration for the Hollywood film The Way Back (a disappointing film in my opinion). If you don’t believe this account, I can understand that you may not enjoy this book, finding it too outlandish and preposterous. For the record, I like to think it’s real and so I would recommend this story even if it’s taken as just that – a cracking adventure story.
“The creek narrowed until it was a mere crack in the ground and here we found water collected in tiny pools in the mud. By pressing down our cupped hands, palms uppermost, we were able to drink, really to drink again, to feel water trickling down our parched throats. We drank it, sand, mud and all, in ecstasy. It was probably as well that we were prevented from gulping it down in large quantities. After each drink there was a waiting period of several minutes before the little hollows filled again with up-seeping water. My split, puffed and bleeding lips burned as the water touched them. I held the water in my mouth before swallowing and washed it about my tongue, my tender gums and aching teeth.”
If you like an epic trek to freedom you might like Random Acts Of Heroic Love
If you like stories of survival against the odds you might like The Grapes Of Wrath
If you like