Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Book Review: Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

Lost in Shangri-La

Author: Mitchell Zuckoff
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: April 26, 2011 (Hardcover Edition)
Pages: 384 (Trade Paperback Edition)

     Lost in Shangri-La is an excellent example of "creative non-fiction", a genre generally recognized as invented by Truman Capote with In Cold Blood.   Mitchell Zuckoff is a former reporter for "The Boston Globe" (Pulitzer finalist for investigative reporting) and a professor of journalism at Boston University.  He brings all of his investigative prowess to this work.  This is an engrossing story of a little known rescue mission which occurred towards the end of World War II on the island of New Guinea.  

     The city of Hollandia on the northern coast of New Guinea was a supply depot and support base for American troops moving up the island chain towards Japan.  A previously unknown remote central valley was discovered by Navy pilots and found to be inhabited by primitive tribes.  Twenty four soldiers embarked on a pleasure ride from Hollandia aboard a plane nicknamed "The Little Gremlin" to see this valley which had been dubbed "Shangri-La" from the 1933 novel The Lost Horizon.   There were three survivors when the plane crashed in the dense jungle covered mountainside.  The survivors included a WAC corporal, Margaret Hastings.  The story of a female soldier lost in a jungle with primitive and cannibalistic savages made for big headlines back in the States.

     The author uses contemporary documents, interviews with survivors, rescue team members and even jungle tribesmen to create a vivid and unforgettable narrative.  He deftly includes background on the natives, the geography of the region and some military politics.  All of these details are needed to understand the complete story.  The fiinal rescue mission is suspenseful and thrilling.  Photographs are included to make the story even more real.

     I found this a very compelling story of human perseverance and courage which the author tells in a very entertaining and instructive way.  I recommend Lost in Shangri-La highly.

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