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
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
The book was well written and the performance was competent. There was just not enough substance to the story to justify a whole book.
True story of WWII
Vivid discription of plane crash and events leading up to the crash
Yes, he writes well and is a decent reader.
The ending was as expected.
The author did his best to turn a tragic story into a book and did so in excruciating detail. It will be hard to forget but is really not worth remembering.
Usually not a fan of read by the author, but the devotion to the story comes through in the narration.
Probably not, only because it was very well laid out and read the first time. Easy to follow the story and rescue timeline. Very descriptive.
The fact that it is true! The thought of places in this world virtually unexplored during WWII is quite amazing. I only wish that as an audiobook listener we could view the pictures that surely were in the book. Maybe there is and I just don't know how to access them.
Read well and with conviction. Easy to listen to
The crash itself, how anyone survived was a miracle. The struggle of hiking through dense jungle made me exhausted just listening to it
If you like histoy, especially WWII history, you should enjoy this one
I've always had more love for reading than time for it. Now Audible lets me read while I drive, cook, garden, clean, workout, etc. I love it
This was an excellent account of an actual crash and rescue during WWII. The narrative was very interesting and also educational. My only complaint is that it ended very abruptly.
Margaret Hastings. Probably because so much was taken from her diary and as a women I related more to her.
The crash of the plane and the immediate aftermath.
The story kept me intrigued all the way through this book. I was amazed at the rescue these very brave men
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.
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!
This book would rank in the top quarter of audiobooks that I have listened to so far.
Lt. McCullum (? sp.) who was instrumental in doing all the right things to save himself and his fellow survivors
A well researched book about this island nation , its people,history and topography
the initial contact with the natives and Maggie's relationship with the
A well; told story whose only fault was presenting too much background material at times.
It's the story of good men and women locked in a desperate struggle far away from their homes.
These are some of the real people of our greatest generation.
Yes. It was impossible to turn off!
This is a fantastic true story that will leave the listener wanting the story to go on and on. You will find yourself intertwined in the lives of these brave men and women and if you are American you will be proud to be so even more after this book! Well done!
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