Publication Date: April 26, 2011
On May 13, 1945, twenty-four American servicemen and WACs boarded a transport plane for a sightseeing trip over “Shangri-La,” a beautiful and mysterious valley deep within the jungle-covered mountains of Dutch New Guinea. Unlike the peaceful Tibetan monks of James Hilton’s bestselling novel Lost Horizon, this Shangri-La was home to spear-carrying tribesmen, warriors rumored to be cannibals.The story of a plane crash in New Guinea during World War II, Lost in Shangri-La packs a lot of information in an easy to read story of survival, discovery and cooperation.
But the pleasure tour became an unforgettable battle for survival when the plane crashed. Miraculously, three passengers pulled through. Margaret Hastings, barefoot and burned, had no choice but to wear her dead best friend’s shoes. John McCollom, grieving the death of his twin brother also aboard the plane, masked his grief with stoicism. Kenneth Decker, too, was severely burned and suffered a gaping head wound.
Emotionally devastated, badly injured, and vulnerable to the hidden dangers of the jungle, the trio faced certain death unless they left the crash site. Caught between man-eating headhunters and enemy Japanese, the wounded passengers endured a harrowing hike down the mountainside—a journey into the unknown that would lead them straight into a primitive tribe of superstitious natives who had never before seen a white man—or woman.
Drawn from interviews, declassified U.S. Army documents, personal photos and mementos, a survivor’s diary, a rescuer’s journal, and original film footage, Lost in Shangri-La recounts this incredible true-life adventure for the first time. Mitchell Zuckoff reveals how the determined trio—dehydrated, sick, and in pain—traversed the dense jungle to find help; how a brave band of paratroopers risked their own lives to save the survivors; and how a cowboy colonel attempted a previously untested rescue mission to get them out.
By trekking into the New Guinea jungle, visiting remote villages, and rediscovering the crash site, Zuckoff also captures the contemporary natives’ remembrances of the long-ago day when strange creatures fell from the sky. A riveting work of narrative nonfiction that vividly brings to life an odyssey at times terrifying, enlightening, and comic, Lost in Shangri-La is a thrill ride from beginning to end.
I normally don’t review non-fiction. In general, I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, maybe that’s not exactly true. I read a lot of children’s non-fiction at work, especially when we get new books in. But, adult non-fiction not as much, except when it comes to history and when it has crossover appeal for teens. So, when Trish from TLC Tours asked if I was interested in reviewing Lost In Shangri-La, it sounded like something I could enjoy while learning something too.
It was very easy to get swept into the story Mitchell Zuckoff was telling. He introduced all of the major players with lots of background information and most of the steps that led them to New Guinea during the later part of World War II. It’s clear that a lot of research was conducted, but Zuckoff put a very personal spin on how the information was presented, almost as though he was talking about old friends. And of course there were tons of footnotes and a bibliography at the end, in case the reader wanted to learn more about this particular incident. Personally, I love footnotes and being able to trace the quote or piece of information back to its source. Maybe that’s just the history buff in me.
Another element that set Lost in Shangri-La apart was that Zuckoff didn’t forget about what else was going on with regards to the war and in the world at large. So while he focused on this one plane crash and rescue mission, he never forgot to clue the reader into other events that were happening. The epilogue tied everything together nicely and gave the reader a look at how this event affected those involved, especially the three survivors.
I would recommend Lost in Shangri-La to readers who enjoy narrative non-fiction, books about World War II that aren’t all about combat and to history lovers. Despite the lack of gory photos, I think some teens will enjoy this book as well.
An ARC of Lost in Shangri-La was provided by Harper and