This tale of a World War II plane crash and rescue is making everybody's summer 2011 must-read lists, and with good reason--it’s a well-researched and -written account of a minor event with so many dramatic angles it keeps the reader glued to the page to the end. I ended up reading it straight through in one day.
In May 1945 (after Germany's surrender but with the Pacific war still active and dangerous) on the South Pacific Island of Dutch New Guinea, 24 American men and women (part of the WAC force stationed there) went on a sight-seeing expedition to the recently-discovered Baliem River valley. This large high-mountain valley, marked on the map as impassable mountains, was in fact home to an estimated 100,000 local people who lived in settled villages with a well-established culture and a self-sustaining agrarian economy--and a tradition of permanent war and cannibalism.
But a pleasant afternoon excursion to see this "Shangri-La" from the air turned tragic when the plane crashed on the dangerous approach over the 15,000-foot mountains into the valley. Zuckoff does a masterful job of putting us on the plane with these American soldiers by showing us their pictures, stories and personalities.
He also does a good job as a journalist and historian and tracking the many dramatic threads of the story after the crash--the survival, the meeting of the cultures, and first contact, and the eventual rescue mission. Along the way, we meet some amazing characters, and learn from later interviews with the New Guinean people how they experienced the events from their linguistic, cultural, and spiritual perspective.
The most interesting part of the crash and rescue for me was that the US military base was just 150 miles away, but separated by those imposing mountains and thousands of Japanese soldiers hiding in them, the survivors might have truly been in Shangri-La, the fictional hidden Tibetan valley that is a land of perpetual peace and happiness. They truly were lost in plain sight.
Zuckoff gives us all the drama and brings this now-obscure moment of World War II history to live.
Imagine flying over a jungle, having your plane crash and kill all but three of the passengers and crew, struggling to find your way to a clearing to be spotted and rescued, only to come face-to-face with a jungle tribe of suspected cannibals. That's the real-life situation that three military personnel found themselves in during World War II, and the story is chronicled in the book Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission … more
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, May 2011: Near the end of World War II, a plane carrying 24 members of the United States military, including nine Women’s Army Corps (WAC) members, crashed into the New Guinea jungle during a sightseeing excursion. 21 men and women were killed. The three survivors--a beautiful WAC, a young lieutenant who lost his twin brother in the crash, and a severely injured sergeant--were stranded deep in a jungle valley notorious for its cannibalistic tribes. They had no food, little water, and no way to contact their military base. The story of their survival and the stunning efforts undertaken to save them are the crux ofLost in Shangri-La, Mitchell Zuckoff’s remarkable and inspiring narrative. Faced with the potential brutality of the Dani tribe, known throughout the valley for its violence, the trio’s lives were dependent on an unprecedented rescue mission--a dedicated group of paratroopers jumped into the jungle to provide aid and medical care, consequently leaving the survivors and paratroopers alike trapped on the jungle floor. A perilous rescue by plane became their only possible route to freedom. A riveting story of deliverance under the most unlikely circumstances,Lost in Shangri-Ladeserves its place among the great survival stories of World War II. --Lynette Mong