Friday, March 11, 2011

Deep survival.

I just finished reading The Long Walk, written by a Pole who'd been tossed into the gulag after the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939.

After over a year of torture in communist prisons, including the infamous Lubyanka, he was shipped east to a labor camp in Siberia near Yakutsk. From there, in the spring of 1941, he and a few other prisoners escaped and set out on foot, crossing Siberia, Mongolia, the Gobi Desert, and the Himalayas before winding up in British India in early 1942.

It is a compelling tale of endurance that has apparently been made into a movie. The Russians claim it's a lie, but given the Soviets' track record with captured Polish officers, it's not surprising that they'd want to kick sand over this particular lump in the Russian historical litter box. I believe I'll be ordering the movie...


TJIC said...

Great book.

genedunn said...

I have not read it, but a friend of mine did. He said it was a great book, but is also very dubious of its "true story" status. And he's not even a commie... or former commie.

Bob said...

Another good one on a similar topic is Alexander Dolgun's Story: An American In The Gulag. Dolgun, whose engineer parents emigrated to the USSR to help build the country, was picked up by the KGB and charged under the infamous Article 58 of the Soviet criminal code. He spent years in the Gulag, and more years afterwards trying to get out of the USSR. He was one of Solzhenitsyn's sources for The Gulag Archipelago.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, though it hard for the Russian to go: "We know this is a lie because all members of Gulag #1237 died. We starved, shot and beat them to death and buried them and have the records to prove it."

The truth is worse than fiction.

You want to see a Russian official change the topic: "Say let's chat about Katyn Forest"

Anonymous said...

A1) An encounter with a Yeti?

B2) "Deep Survival" was engineer water torture. Gonzales just pasted a bunch of half-understood science terms du jour together. Cak. Almost as bad as "The Gift of Fear" or "The Unthinkable" or "The Black Swan". Something John Robb would suggest, and then run off, smugly.

I have nothing positive to add to the conversation, which isn't unusual.

Turk Turon said...

Ordered the book from your link. The movie is not on Netflix.
"Skeletons In The Sahara" is another good book about extreme escape and survival, this time about U.S. merchant sailors shipwrecked on the northwest coast of Africa around 1830.
Thanks for the tip!

Peter said...

That was one of our school set books back in the early 1970's. The (anti-communist) government of South Africa reckoned it was a good book to use to educate that country's children about what they could expect from Communism.


Vaarok said...

As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me was tremendously depressing, I can't imagine any other movie on the subject will be any better.

Anonymous said...

First read the book back in 8th or 9th grade. Found a copy a few years ago. Had lost none of its impact.
The author's veracity has been called into question since the book first appeared in England.
Can say I am "looking forward" to the movie but I have every intention of seeing it.

Anonymous said...

"You want to see a Russian official change the topic: "Say let's chat about Katyn Forest"

I wrote my thesis for my history degree on the Katyn Massacre (specifically the treatment of it after the massacre and after the war)

To this day, the Russians still don't really want to admit to it and are still very prickly about discussing it, and Russia and Poland still have spats over it(and remember the crash of the Polish Air Force transport carrying the civilian and military leadership of Poland on their way to a Katyn massacre memorial?). Many in the US hardly know of the massacre, but it's still a HUGE deal over there.

The West is also very quiet about it's treatment of the Katyn massacre.

perlhaqr said...

The West is also very quiet about it's treatment of the Katyn massacre.

Much of the West is entirely too silent about most of the horrors of the Soviets.

Tam said...


Tailgunner Joe tried to tell us why that is.

Britt said...

Katyn tugs on my heartstrings. Thousands of Polish officers surrendered, trusting that despite the strange new ideologies that were professed by the invaders, that common decency and respect for the laws of war were still in effect.

To me, the premeditated murder of soldiers who stack arms on the guarantee of safe conduct is the thing that really shows just how opposed to civilization the USSR was. The total rejection of the laws of nation and the rights of man illustrates the barbarism of the regime in a way that the other atrocities do not. Personally, I cannot fathom the millions starving to death or languishing in the Gulag. The human mind cannot comprehend such horrors. Katyn's scale makes it easier to wrap your mind around, and in doing so you appreciate the evil wrought by communism.

Anonymous said...

The Long Walk...that takes me back. Mr J., my 5th grade teacher, read that book aloud to the class throughout the school year, as a reward for everyone in the class acing a history class. Imagine if you will, two dozen 10 year olds sitting quiet, enthralled and semi-horrified for an hour a day, for a school year. This was in 1965.

I have to pick up a copy of that book here sometime soon. Thanks for jogging the grey cells.

Anonymous said...

The Long Walk is a great book but should be read for what it is, an inspiring fictional account.
Anyone with any experience knows that the distances covered under those specific circumstances with practically nothing is just not possible. If I remember one fantastic claim right, they went without water in the Gobi for 2 or three weeks. No matter how tough you are what he talks about doing is just not on.

Tam said...

I'd put some of the narrative implausibilities down to A) an oft-repeated tale and B) I doubt that they had much in the way of keeping track of any sort of time reliably.

Just because the fish that got away gets bigger every time you tell the story years down the road, it doesn't mean that he was never on your hook to begin with.

Long story short: yeah, you want to take pace counts, miles-per-day, and so forth with a grain of salt...

John said...

Russian Revolution --

The violent criminals won...the idealists wound up as paving bones on the bottom of the Neva canal.

A read of Solzhenitsyn, and a passing grade on the test, ought to be mandatory for high school graduation,let alone as a pre-condition before any one can stand as candidate for a political office. Color me a Statist Control Freak, if you will, but I am weary beyond weary of the massive ignorance this country's 'leadership' is bringing to making decisions about out future.

OK, on a much more contemporary note; a worthy study of a little known corner of the Russian sphere: it's Far East. Did you like Arseniev and Dersu? Well, here's a 21st Century update of their old stomping grounds. History,politics, new economy, old soviets, new China and THE TIGER are very readably interwoven in this BOOOOK!

"The Tiger,a True Story of Vengeance and Survival" by John Vaillant
ISBN 978-0-307-39714-0

Two small forwards:

'In the taiga there are no witnesses'

"no easy bargain
would be made in that place by any man"

The issues discussed in above posts get fleshed out in the history and natural history of Primorye, the effects of Russian expansionism, and the sum impact today upon the Siberian tiger -- which is the centre subject of the book.

If you like reading about Russia and want a contemporary window into a remote corner of it, don't miss it. Any inadequacies in conveying the subject and it's specifics are entirely mine, so don't let them put you off. It's a good read.

kishnevi said...

I haven't read the book, so I can't judge the veracity of details, but I'm sure the basic story did happen, because a variation of that story is part of my family history: some of my father's cousins went from Moldava to Shanghai, almost entirely by foot, during WWII. In their case, they were escaping,not the Gulag, but the Nazis. Prior to leaving Moldava (back then of course part of the Soviet Union as Moldavia or Bessarabia) they hid when necessary in a neighbor's oven. (It was a bakery sized oven, so you needn't think of them as all squeezing into a Kenmore in the kitchen.)
These cousins, btw, were the only members of the family still living in Europe who were not killed in the Holocaust. (My part of the family had emigrated to the US during the years 1900-1025.) From Shanghai, they eventually made it to the USA, one of the sons serving in the US Army during the Korean War.

global village idiot said...

I read an excerpt of this story in a collection of "survival adventures," some factual - such as this - and some fictional, such as "Three Skeleton Key" and that short story about the rancher versus army ants (title escapes me). Started reading "Gulag Archipelago" but had to quit because I started feeling paranoid - an undesirable condition when you're reading the book while deployed in Iraq.

Tam, this is the second book in as many weeks that I've snagged from the library on your I-say-so. First was You Are Here, and it didn't disappoint.


Douglas Hester said...

Another excellent read along the same lines is Execution By Hunger by Miron Dolot. It's a first-person account of one Ukrainian village's intentional starvation by Stalin during the '30s. An easy read and very enlightening as to how badly the peasants were treated.