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Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II | [Mitchell Zuckoff]

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II

On May 13, 1945, 24 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 best-selling 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.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Lost In Shangri- La by Mitchell Zuckoff is a blockbuster tale Hollywood couldn’t better. An American military plane crashes in an uncharted and barely accessible part of New Guinea leaving only three survivors, one of them a brave and fetching blonde member of the Women’s Army Corps. The survivors and natives share a fascinating rapprochement, despite the tribe’s propensity to war.

Zuckoff tells the tale with an unusual focus on the personalities randomly thrust together and the collision of stunningly different worlds. His writing and delivery let the drama speak for itself: his mellow voice and almost conversational style avoids histrionics at the climactic moments, yet still conveys the characters’ emotional journeys.

Events take off, literally in 1945 in Dutch New Guinea, where Americans still at war with the Japanese were stationed. Twenty-four soldiers and members of the Women’s Army Corps are treated by their boss to a recreational flight over “Shangri-La”, a storied part of the island recently discovered.

Flying over a narrow valley on the mountainous island (which had already foundered 600 planes during the war), treacherous terrain and human error result in the crash, killing all but three on board: Corporal Margaret Hastings, a 30-year-old WAC enlistee from upstate New York, who sustained leg burns; Sergeant Kenneth Decker, whose stoicism wasn’t fully realized until the severity of his wounds were discovered days later, and, finally, Lieutenant John McCollom who, while physically the heartiest, was arguably the most wounded, having left the remains of his twin brother in the wreckage.

Zuckoff sensitively narrates the travails of the immediate aftermath when the trio, living on scant water and hard candies, drag themselves through the jungle to a clearing where they will be more visible to search planes.

But they are first spotted by natives, fierce-looking and, for all the survivors know, cannibals. Drawing heavily on Margaret’s diary, Zuckoff seems to share the sense of wonder, as well as the initial condescension, curiosity, and fear shared by the survivors. And, through his research with the tribesmen and their progeny about the long-ago event, he helps us grasp the culture and reactions of the tribe, who believed the survivors to be gods or spirits of death to be honored. The tribe’s almost religious commitment to making war makes the relationships that grew between the two groups that much more remarkable. Margaret and a regal, gracious tribeswoman find a deep bond, with nary a comprehensible word between them.

After five weeks together, the rescue operation is ready. Zuckoff sets it up with all the challenges of logistics and aeronautic risks, telling a heart-stopping narrative from the arrival of paratroopers through the seemingly doomed attempts to “snatch” the survivors to safety.

For all the swashbuckling, exotic appeal of this historic episode, the most moving sections were the intimacies Zuckoff sought out from the survivors and shares here like secret, treasured knowledge — the snippets of letters sent home; details of families’ idiosyncrasies, and especially, the fascinatingly ordinary lives the survivors lived out, after the event Zuckoff reveals in all its extraordinariness. —Elly Schull Meeks

Publisher's Summary

On May 13, 1945, 24 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 best-selling 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.

©2011 Mitchell Zuckoff (P)2011 HarperCollins Publishers

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.0 (1442 )
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Story
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3 star
 (186)
2 star
 (32)
1 star
 (11)
Performance
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  •  
    Melinda Santa Ynez, CA, United States 02-03-12
    Melinda Santa Ynez, CA, United States 02-03-12 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
    11
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    162
    27
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "I Had No Idea This Occurred"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Lost in Shangri-La to be better than the print version?

    NA


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Margaret Hastings. Probably because so much was taken from her diary and as a women I related more to her.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    The crash of the plane and the immediate aftermath.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    The story kept me intrigued all the way through this book. I was amazed at the rescue these very brave men


    Any additional comments?

    I was in awe of these real people. Fascinated with the natives living in the valley. Made me do more research on New Guinea. I wasn't even sure where exactly it was located before this book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mark Ludwigson Milwaukee, WI 01-31-12
    Mark Ludwigson Milwaukee, WI 01-31-12 Listener Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    19
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    144
    7
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    0
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    "Excellent read"

    This was one of the best non-fiction audiobooks I've listened to! It really kept my interest through the full book. The author gives a lot of historical background to the story, and I learned a lot about the Pacific War and New Guinea. Highly recommend!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    George A. Gilbert Jr. Pensacola, FL 01-31-12
    George A. Gilbert Jr. Pensacola, FL 01-31-12 Member Since 2015

    epivicar

    ratings
    REVIEWS
    1
    1
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A well researched story of survival"
    Where does Lost in Shangri-La rank among all the audiobooks you???ve listened to so far?

    This book would rank in the top quarter of audiobooks that I have listened to so far.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Lt. McCullum (? sp.) who was instrumental in doing all the right things to save himself and his fellow survivors


    What does Mitchell Zuckoff bring to the story that you wouldn???t experience if you just read the book?

    A well researched book about this island nation , its people,history and topography


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    the initial contact with the natives and Maggie's relationship with the


    Any additional comments?

    A well; told story whose only fault was presenting too much background material at times.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John 12-26-11
    John 12-26-11 Member Since 2011
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    13
    2
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Excellent Historical read"
    Where does Lost in Shangri-La rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    In the upper two thirds of the books my wife and I have listened to.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Margaret. Her courage and perserverance in the face of disaster, death, isolation, danger, and of course her life threatening injuries. The roll in women in WW 2 was also of interest.


    What does Mitchell Zuckoff bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    He was able to convey the depth of feelings the survivors experienced better tha the printed word.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The scene where they met and developed a relationship with the natives.


    Any additional comments?

    My wife and I lister to your audiobooks daily on an adaptor on our ipod that allows two sets of ear phones to be pluged in. This makes us look forward to our daily 45+ minute walk every day.

    John Sarbacker MD (retired)

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Samir Sanghani Boston, MA 12-26-11
    Samir Sanghani Boston, MA 12-26-11 Listener Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    8
    ratings
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    49
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    "Nice historical dramatic story"
    What made the experience of listening to Lost in Shangri-La the most enjoyable?

    Very interesting story about the isolated spots that played front line in WWII. Nice historical piece and drama. A quick listen. I wouldn't call it the 'most incredible' rescue mission - but may be the most unique.


    What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

    THe narrator's voice was a little monotonic, and no attempt at different voices or inflections. Could have hired a professional narrator to add this dimension.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Really liked the first hand viewpoints of the natives - what they were thinking. This made the book.


    Any additional comments?

    If you like this book, also try

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lynnwood Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States 12-21-11
    Lynnwood Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States 12-21-11 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
    9
    ratings
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    13
    6
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    0
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    Story
    "Great story"
    Would you listen to Lost in Shangri-La again? Why?

    I would listen to it again. It has a very compelling story and lots of great personal details about the main characters.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Thorough research that is evident.


    What about Mitchell Zuckoff???s performance did you like?

    It is well written and spoken although I believe he mispronounces the word


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    Lost in time.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    cynthia 12-19-11
    cynthia 12-19-11
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    6
    2
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Captivating Story"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Lost in Shangri-La to be better than the print version?

    No.


    What other book might you compare Lost in Shangri-La to and why?

    Hellhound on His Trail


    Which scene was your favorite?

    Following the crash the story of survival and the meeting of the natives.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    No.


    Any additional comments?

    Good story wish I could share it easily with my friends. That is the biggest drawback for your service. I love loaning my books and CD's but it is impossible to really just share the book without signing them up.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Johnny Midland, GA, United States 12-19-11
    Johnny Midland, GA, United States 12-19-11 Member Since 2014

    “11 years Public Education, DID NOT GRADUATE. 20 years Army Medical Corps, Retired 16 years High School Teacher, Retired 05 YearsCollage 7.

    ratings
    REVIEWS
    3
    2
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Another view of wwII."
    Would you try another book from Mitchell Zuckoff and/or Mitchell Zuckoff?

    First! I haven't totally completed the book.But so far it's holding very well.The location of the book and whats happening is also holding me.Would I try another.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    None @ this time.


    Have you listened to any of Mitchell Zuckoff’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No


    Do you think Lost in Shangri-La needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

    Yes


    Any additional comments?

    None @ this time.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gordon Calgary, Alberta, Canada 12-19-11
    Gordon Calgary, Alberta, Canada 12-19-11
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    3
    1
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Real War Heros!"
    Would you listen to Lost in Shangri-La again? Why?

    So new to Audiobooks that I really don't know.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    The scene of coming upon the natives that had never been discovered by mankind.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    The book made me laugh in places and I was in awe with the level of details provided by the writer about the people involved, the place that the rescue took place.and the on goings behind the scenes. It felt very real and the narration by the author himself made it seem as if he was telling me the whole story in my presence and not just reading words on a page.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Beth Sterling, VA, United States 12-02-11
    Beth Sterling, VA, United States 12-02-11 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
    17
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    25
    12
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    0
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    Performance
    Story
    "Very interesting"

    The author narrates and does an excellent job. There are quite a few unpronounceable names in the book of the natives of New Guinea, and either the author did an excellent job pronouncing them, or he was very consistent and self-assured in his mis-pronunciation, because it sounded flawless.

    Good story of survival in the jungle and a "failure is not an option" type of rescue that had never been done before.

    Very well done.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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