Synopses & Reviews
Since 1956, The Long Walk
has been, for many, the symbol of an immense love of freedom and has become one of the greatest true-life adventure stories of all time. The harrowing story about a group of POWs who escaped a labor camp in Siberia and walked to freedom in India during WWII deeply affected thousands of its readers, and Linda Willis was one of those moved by the story. But she had questions about its authenticity:
- Was it all true?
- What happened after their arrival in India?
- Were there others involved in the story?
- Who was Mr. Smith?
Though she was not a trained researcher, Willis felt compelled to look at some of the most powerful aspects of the story and to try to dig to the core of the truth behind The Long Walk
. Willis’s investigation took her down unforeseen byways with many hours spent unraveling facts, truths, half-truths, rumors, and the like. She waded through archives, wrote and spoke to hundreds of people, and continued to seek out and verify the details of the greatest adventure narrative ever written. The path of Willis’s research will be a model for anyone attempting a similar search and who has ever thought about the story behind a book. No one who reads Looking for Mr. Smith
will ever think of The Long Walk
in the same way.
"Published in 1956, Slavomir Rawicz's The Long Walk told of a group of Siberian labor camp prisoners at the beginning of WWII and their escape by walking from Siberia to India in 1941 1942. (A film version, The Way Back, is due in January.) The book became a bestseller yet incongruities and unanswered questions led some to question the book's veracity. Wanting to resolve the question, Willis contacted families of survivors and others associated with the escape and the book, including relatives of its ghostwriter, Robert Downing. Rawicz and his wife both died in 2004, but Willis details a screenwriter's 2002 interview with Rawicz, bolstered by a summary of her own correspondence with the couple. The highlight is her interview with Witold Glinski; not mentioned in The Long Walk, he claimed to have been one of the escapees, and his account led to speculation: 'Either Downing convinced Rawicz to pretend the story was his... or Rawicz pulled the wool over Downing's eyes Sifting through the contradictions, Willis concludes with her quest for the elusive American escapee, Mr. Smith. A formidable sleuth, Willis recounts every detail of her meticulous research, spanning years, but some mysteries remain. (Nov.) U.K. railway historian Wolmar (Blood, Iron & Gold: How Railways Transformed the World) says that the importance of railways in war has been greatly underplayed by historians. As Wolmar sees it, 'the creation of the railways led to a tremendous escalation of the scale of warfare,' and they were used in an increasingly strategic way in military operations. The American Civil War was the first genuine railway war, delivering troops to the front and at battlegrounds determined by the railroad's location. Basic information on each conflict provides a backdrop for the role of railroads in the Crimean War, the Franco-Prussian War, the Russo-Japanese War (triggered by the 5,700-mile-long Trans-Siberian Railway), WWI, and WWII. The WWII chapter covers both air attacks on railway installations and the transport of Holocaust victims. Closing pages cover the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the end of the cold war when America and Russia both began work on railway-based ICBMs. Yet railways' expensive infrastructure made it inevitable that motorized transport would take over. Wolmar writes with an authoritative tone and solid research on how railroads, with their ability to move vast numbers of troops, made 'industrial-scale carnage possible.' Illus.; maps. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
For the first time, the truth behind the bestselling adventure narrative The Long Walk.
About the Author
Linda Willis lived, traveled, and worked overseas for thirty years before returning to the United States in 1997. She’s worked as a prawn traveler and an executive secretary and has taught English in Taiwan and Japan. Willis turned her hand to writing once she started down the road to researching the story behind The Long Walk, which took her ten years to accomplish. She lives in Middlebury, Vermont.