Lost in Shangri La – Book Review

by on May 1, 2012

I admit it, I’m a sucker for a book with an airplane on the cover – especially if it’s an antique or WWII vintage airplane. I can’t remember where I first saw this particular book, but do I remember making a mental note to buy it. Last week I had breakfast with a friend and he handed me a copy saying I’d probably enjoy the read. He had bought it, finished it and was passing it along. It’s nice to have friends like that…

Mitchell Zuckoff, the author, is a professor of journalism at Boston University. In this book he has produced a work of narrative nonfiction that is fast-paced, easy to read and an amazing story that takes place near the end of WWII in Dutch New Guinea.

On May 13, 1945, twenty-four American servicemen and WACs boarded a transport plane for a sightseeing trip over 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 tribesman, warriors rumored to be cannibals.

The flight was made in a C-47 named the Gremlin Special. It wasn’t a difficult flight but enroute to the valley it was necessary pass over a mountain range or two with peaks reaching as high as 15,000 feet. At that time the inner portion of New Guinea was uncharted – a blank area of jungles and mountains on maps, populated by island natives and pockets of Japanese soldiers still remaining after American forces recaptured the island. The valley that had become known as Shangri-La with its large population of natives had been only recently discovered by air and there appeared to be no navigable land routes in or out.

The sightseeing flight was, unfortunately, a short one that ended abruptly against the side of a mountain at the edge of the valley. Lost in Shangri-La is the story of the survivors of the crash and their efforts to remain alive long enough to be rescued. Zuckoff used interviews, personal photos and mementos, survivor’s diaries and journals and declassified U.S.Army documents to recount the amazing adventure.

This book is well worth reading, it’s a great story. It is available at Amazon.com through the affiliate link shown here.

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