Sara's Reviews > Lost in Shangri-la: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II

Lost in Shangri-la by Mitchell Zuckoff
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Feb 15, 2012

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bookshelves: book-club, 100-in-2012
Read on July 26, 2012

tells the story of events which transpired in Dutch New Guinea in 1945. Pilots from an American base nearby had discovered an untouched valley deep in the mountains. They named it Shangri-La and took base personel on occasional sightseeing flyovers. However, on May 13, 1945 a group of 24 servicemen and WACs took a flight over Shangri-La that ended in tragedy. The plane crashed and only three of the passengers survived into the following week.
Margaret Hastings, Kenneth Decker, and John McCollom were left to survive as best they could. They were able to salvage a few supplies from the plane, but with the heavy tree cover they could not afford to stay with the wreck, which is standard procedure. All three survivors were severely wounded, but they struck out through the jungle in an attempt to get the open valley floor. They knew that the valley was inhabited by primitive seeming peoples, and hoped that they could find aid and shelter with some of them.
Through some unimaginable luck the party passed into the valley safely. They found shelter and managed to alert rescue parties searching for them. But their troubles were far from over. All three survivors required immediate and intensive medical treatment, which was far beyond the capabilities of the locals. The terrain made landing any of the available planes impossible. Plans were continually made and remade, but rescue still seemed far away.

This is probably one of the more fascinating non-fiction books I've read in a long time. Longitude and The Bolter are the two others that stand out for me. Zuckoff did intense research on the tragedy. He collected photographs and interviews from the people involved or their families. He manages to put the reader into the situation without assuming the role of the omniscient narrator. He allows for the limitations of second hand narratives, but still makes everything seem very immediate. Unbroken by Hillenbrand has been the breakout WWII story of the last few years, but I think Lost in Shangri-La is absolutely worth a read.

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