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Book 18

  1. Matheson, Richard — I Am Legend (161 pages)
  2. McCarthy, Cormac — No Country for Old Men (307 pages)
  3. Dexter, Gary — Why Not Catch 21?: The Stories Behind the Titles (213 pages)
  4. Ryman, Geoff — 253 (366 pages)
  5. Wyndham, John — The Day of the Triffids (267 pages)
  6. Kurkov, Andrey — Death and the Penguin (228 pages)
  7. Chesterton, G.K. — Orthodoxy (183 pages)
  8. Gibbs, Christopher H., ed. — The Cambridge Companion to Schubert (334 pages)
  9. Sendak, Maurice — Where the Wild Things Are (48 pages — though only 1 page will count towards my tally)
  10. Hurston, Zora Neale — Their Eyes Were Watching God (215 pages)
  11. Clarke, Arthur C. — Rendezvous With Rama (245 pages)
  12. Clarke, Arthur C. — The City and the Stars (246 pages)
  13. Chesterton, G.K. — The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (205 pages)
  14. Tepper, Sheri S. — Beauty (468 pages)
  15. Slawson, Douglas J. — Ambition and Arrogance: Cardinal William O'Connell of Boston and the American Catholic Church (186 pages)
  16. Belloc, Hilaire — The Great Heresies (166 pages)
  17. Waugh, Evelyn — Brideshead Revisited (326 pages)
  18. Rawicz, Slavomir — The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom (278 pages)

Page count: 4200.

I had been looking forward to this "inspiring" and "heroic" "true story" for quite some time. Then I began reading it and something struck me as not quite right. I turned to my trusted friend Google, and turns out the story might not be so true.

It is improbable that someone should walk out of a Gulag near Yakutsk in the middle of a Siberian winter, walk south through the Gobi and over the Himalayas, and eventually emerge a year later alive. Improbable alone doesn't make it untrue, though. "Experts" have analyzed the geography and peoples described and feel that the story isn't true. The chapter on encountering abominable snowmen casts a great deal of doubt on the story as well. But I'm not prepared to say with 100% certainty that such things don't exist, however unlikely, or that Rawicz, suffering from exhaustion, dehydration, hunger, and oxygen deprivation, didn't honestly believe he saw that. Later, Soviet documents were found that state Rawicz actually was released and sent to a refugee camp in Iran. Of course, we know that the "official" story and the "true" story are often at odds, and such documents aren't by themselves sufficient evidence. Perhaps the Soviets were embarrassed that these guys walked away from their Gulag and to save face forged documents about what happened.

Either way, sufficient doubt was cast on The Long Walk's veracity as to turn me off to it. I don't care if it's all fiction, if it's advertised as fiction. But calling it a true story when it's not does a disservice to the story. It casts doubt on everything in it. One would think the sections dealing with Ravicz's imprisonment, interrogation, sham trial, and march to the gulag are all true, but knowing he probably lied about how he got out makes me wonder if he didn't exaggerate his description of the atrocities he did face. We know the Stalin regime committed all sorts of unspeakable crimes, so anything that allows one to think that maybe it wasn't as bad as all that is doing an injustice.

I decided the only way to get through was to treat The Long Walk as a novel. Nonetheless, at times I forgot it (most likely) isn't true—the adventure does suck you in. One reviewer suggested the story fails to hang together when one knows it isn't true. I didn't feel that way. I felt myself caring for the characters despite the likelihood of their being figments. I found myself cheering for them, hoping such and such wouldn't be one of the ones that perishes, and even getting a bit choked up at the end. Had The Long Walk been promoted as an adventure tale by a survivor of Soviet atrocities, it would be a pretty good representative of that genre. However, then it probably wouldn't have sold so many copies or earned Rawicz as many lecture honorariums.

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