Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Guest Review: Lost in Shangri-La

Summary: 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. 

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. -- Harper

You know how there are some books you see and you immediately think of someone who might like it? Well that was certainly the case with LOST IN SHANGRI-LA: A TRUE STORY OF SURVIVAL, ADVENTURE, AND THE MOST INCREDIBLE RESCUE MISSION OF WORLD WAR II by Mitchell Zuckoff. When I read the book's description, I immediately thought of my dad. I had a feeling that he would find this book fascinating...and I was right! Here are his thoughts:

In his novel LOST IN SHANGRI-LA, Mitchell Zuckoff takes us back to World War II where a C-47 transport plane carrying 24 military personnel on a sightseeing joy ride disappears over the unchartered mountainous jungles of New Guinea.

Zuckoff describes in great detail the true story of the May 13, 1945 plane crash and rescue of the three survivors, one WAC and two servicemen.  The three survivors faced the risk of untreated injuries, primitive tribes, unfriendly terrain and Japanese soldiers as they struggled to stay alive while waiting to be rescued.  The 12-member rescue team arrived in one week but it took another three weeks before a creative and daring “air snatch’ was devised to remove the rescue team and survivors from the New Guinea hidden valley.

The author makes use of a tremendous amount of research in telling his story, including personal journals, photographs, military records and eyewitness interviews.  Zuckoff even made a trip back to the Shangri-La (now called BaliemValley) to talk to surviving tribal witnesses and visit the crash site.  Zuckoff‘s detailed information about the characters in the novel serves to make them more realistic to the reader.  The epilogue which is a brief account of what happened to each of the key characters after the rescue also helps bring the characters to life.  His background information about the Philippines at the time of World War II added a very meaningful perspective to the American-led Pilipino paratroopers who carried out the rescue operation.  He also includes an interesting account of a wealthy amateur anthropologist who was the first white visitor to the valley in the 1930s.  When Zuckoff’s research of the natives and their customs is meshed with the impressions of the tribes presented in the personal journals, it gives a great, sometimes amusing perspective of the communications among the survivors, the rescue team and the native tribes.  Accounts of press correspondent flyovers and an inebriated filmmaker parachute drop into the valley add a bit of bizarre activity to an otherwise serious novel.

LOST IN SHANGRI-LA is a very readable, fast-paced entertaining non-fiction novel about a beautiful WAC, a lush hidden valley, primitive tribes and a daring air rescue.  Can anyone say movie?  This is a great book.  I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in World War II or to anyone who likes a great story.  

Thanks so much to the publisher for sending a review copy of this book and to Booking Pap Pap for his awesome (as usual) review!


bermudaonion said...

Booking Pap Pap's reviews are awesome! This sounds like a fascinating, well-written book!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Great review! This also sounds like it would be fun to listen to as an audio version to keep you awake on car trips!

heyiwanttoreadthat.com said...

Booking Pap Pap can really review a book. This sounds like a harrowing but fascinating book. Thanks for sharing you dad with us.

Alyce said...

This looks like a fantastic book! I think I'd really like it, so I'll have to see if I can find a copy around here.

Heather J. said...

I just requested the audio of this one for myself - I think I'll really enjoy it!

Angie said...

I'm nto a big fan of war books but I do love stories of survival. I am always fascinated by how far a hunan can push their endurance level when they have to.

Anna said...

This sounds like a great book. I was worried that it might be too dry, but I'm glad to hear that it's very readable. I'll link to Booking Pap Pap's review on War Through the Generations.