Lost in Shangri-La: the Epic True Story of a Plane Crash into the Stone Age is the page-turning true story of a 1945 accident in a remote New Guinea valley inhabited by natives thought to be cannibals. Upon the discovery of the valley, Col. Ray Elsmore, commander of the 322nd Troup Carrier Wing of the U.S. Army Air Forces, led several fly-overs to show this valley, dubbed “Shangri-La,” to the men and women under his command. One such sortie ended in a crash leaving only three survivors. Using journals, logs and photographs from the survivors and rescuers, Zuckoff weaves a story that seems more like fiction than the accurate historical account that it is.
The book is at its best when telling of the three survivors and the grace and courage they exhibited just after the crash. Margaret Hastings, a 30-year-old WAC, whose burns and gangrene seemed unbearable, endured pain and hunger with kindness and humor. Her journal entries about the flight, the crash and the natives that befriended them vividly portray the incident. Kenneth Decker, a tech sergeant with a severe head injury, burns and gangrene, is a profile in courage and Lieutenant John McCollum provides the cool, strong, yet compassionate leadership that saves them. Adding to the flavor of the tale is Zuckoff’s even-handed depiction of the rescuers including heroic Filipino-American medics Doc Bulato and Rammy Ramirez that tenderly cared for Hastings and Decker’s injuries. Zuckoff also shows the natives as multi-dimensional not as the media and rescuers expected them to be.
Zuckoff carefully depicts the naiveté of the officers and pilots as they venture into enemy territory on a joy ride yet he never editorializes on their decisions. He explores American chutzpah with word pictures that demonstrate the views that were prevalent in 1945. The bonus epilogue offers an intriguing view into the lives of the natives, survivors and rescuers after the war. It also makes the reader ponder the sociological implications of the events.
Summing it Up: Read this book to learn about survival and a daring rescue in the jungles of New Guinea near the end of World War II. Enjoy the cinematic, yet realistic, portrayal of the men and women who crashed, those that saved them and the natives they got to know.
Rating: 4 stars
Category: Nonfiction, Super Nutrition, Book Club
Publication date: April 26, 2011
Author website: http://www.mitchellzuckoff.com/
What Others are Saying:
Kirkus Reviews: http://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/non-fiction/mitchell-zuckoff/lost-shangri-la/#review
Publisher’s Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/reviews/single/164663-lost-in-shangri-la-the-epic-true-story-of-a-plane-crash-into-the-stone-age.html
“’Lost in Shangri-La’ is a movie waiting to be made.” – BookPage.