[Book Review] Mitchell Zuckoff’s Lost in Shangri-La

Lost in Shangri-la book cover
Lost in Shangri-La book cover

Here’s a great book which I picked up at the Los Angeles International Airport earlier this year – Mitchell Zuckoff’s Lost in Shangri-La.

The book is based on the true story of three survivors of a horrible plane crash in then Dutch New Guinea during WWII.

Zuckoff’s writing is easy to read and gives a layer of romanticism to an otherwise dark period.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters on the three white survivors coming in contact with native New Guineans for the first time. The latter is cut off from the rest of the world, living in their own Shangri-La. They were at a lost as to how to react to intruders in their land.

On hindsight, following interviews with the natives after over five decades, Zuckoff was able to furbish details on the culture clashes and misinterpretations that occur during the encounter.

The narrative reads pretty much like a cheesy straight-to-video B-grade movie. The difference was that everything was real, making the book very addictive to read.

Picture of one of the survivor with a native New Guinean
Picture of one of the survivor, Corporal Margaret Hastings with a native New Guinean

I finished reading the book in about two days, hooked on every page. If you like Indiana Jones type adventure, but in the real world setting, do pick up Lost in Shangri-La.

About the Book

On May 13, 1945, twenty-four officers and enlisted men and women stationed on what was then Dutch New Guinea boarded a transport plane named the Gremlin Special for a sightseeing trip over “Shangri-La,” a beautiful and mysterious valley surrounded by steep, jagged mountain peaks deep within the island’s uncharted jungle.

But the pleasure tour became an unforgettable battle for survival when the plane crashed. Miraculously, three passengers survived – WAC Corporal Margaret Hastings, Lieutenant John McCollom, and Sergeant Kenneth Decker.

Emotionally devastated, badly injured, and vulnerable to disease, parasites, and poisonous snakes in the wet jungle climate, the trio was caught between man-eating headhunters and the enemy Japanese. With nothing to sustain them but a handful of candy and their own fortitude, they endured a harrowing trek down the mountainside – straight into a primitive tribe of superstitious natives who had never before seen a white man or woman.

Lost in Shangri-La recounts this incredible true-life adventure for the first time. A riveting work of narrative nonfiction that vividly brings to life an odyssey at times terrifying, enlightening, and comic, Lost in Shangri-La is a thrill ride from beginning to end.


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