This book is a true story, but Mitchell Zuckoff does such an amazing job of telling it that reads much like a novel in that it grabs you right from the beginning, and for me, was darn near impossible to put down. Imagine going on a fly-over sight seeing tour of one of the most beautiful mountain jungle areas in the world to see an almost hidden, untouched valley and then crashing into a mountain and being one of the few survivors trying to find a way out. But getting out or back to the base isn't easy in a place with no roads or paths, just dense rain forest vegetation, a huge tree canopy and tangled vines both above and below you. Imagine being injured with open wounds and having to exist in a place that's perpetually wet and steaming with all sorts of bacteria and fungi and little to keep it out. You don't even want to think about all the bugs and critters that call this place home. Add to that the stories you've heard about spear throwing, cannibalistic natives and you wonder how these people didn't give up right then and there.
Having read the description of the book and knowing that it was a rescue and reading pretty much what the outcome was, I was a little concerned that the book might not hold my attention. But, not to worry, as soon as I started reading I was mesmerized by the amount of detail and how gripping the story was. Mitchell Zuckoff notes that no liberties were taken with any of the facts, characters, dialog or chronology which must have made it a double challenge for him to put the diaries, notes, news stories and newsreels and interviews all together in a way made me feel like I was there, personally involved with these people.
Besides being such a good read, it added to my knowledge of the history of WWII. With so many battles going on all over the world, New Guinea isn't a place that you read that much about in history books on the war. This book tied a lot of what was going on in that area together for me. There are lots of characters in this book besides just the survivors and Zuckoff gives us the background stories on several of the rescuers and people at the base camp as well as some of the politics of the time. He does it in such a way that it doesn't interrupt the main action, but rather adds to the insight and makes it that much more interesting.
This would be a good book for any World War II buff, history lovers, action adventure enthusiasts, and really, anyone who just loves a good read. And because one of the main characters in this story is a woman who enlisted in the WAC, I think it would be equally interesting for both men and women. Two thumbs up for this great book that left me blurry eyed this morning after "just one more page" kept me up the better part of the night to finish it.
Near the end of WWII, a plane crashed on New Guinea. A colonel based there thought he and another pilot had been the first white men to discover an Eden-like valley filled with towns of natives on the island. As a morale booster, he would send planes filled with soldiers and WACs to the valley, dubbed "Shangri-La" after the nirvana of LOST HORIZONS. One of the planes crashed and only three survive - two soldiers and one WAC. The WAC and one of the soldiers were severely injured.
The account then tracks their survival, how they were found and how they were rescued. The author uses diaries, Army records and interviews to reconstruct the events.
Mr. Zuckoff provides far more then a simple account, however. He provides some history of the participants. Especially interesting were the Phillipino-American soldiers who volunteered for the rescue mission and the rescue operation itself (don't want to give it away). The most fascinating aspect, though, was the study of the natives who had lived a stone age war-mongering existence completely isolated from the rest of the world, or even the rest of the island and their interactions with the Americans. What makes it so unique is that he has the perspectives from both the American side and the natives' side because he was able to New Guinea last year and interview natives who still remembered the events. Thus he was able to provide their thinking as well as the Americans'. It is frequently amusing to learn the gross misunderstandings of members of the two so different cultures. Even with these gross misunderstandings they were able to peacefully co-exist for seven weeks.
The background and the retrospective perspective make this far more than just a plane crash sage. Highly recommended.
In the year 1945, on the island of what was then titled Dutch New Guinea, an Army base full of soldiers & WACS were stationed there waiting for shipment out to the Philippines. While killing time waiting for their next set of orders, they embark on mini day trips soaring the skies above the jungle canopy into the land of towering mountains and magical panoramic terrain. A native village had been sighted and those who enlisted for these special sightseeing flights were dubbed members of The Shangri-La Society. Flying over this village that was hidden deep in the valley gorges was extremely dangerous due to low visibility through cloud enshrouded mountains. Tight hairpin turns in between gorges didn't leave a whole lot for airplane maneuverability. On one such run, the airplane nicknamed the Gremlin Special, took off for a day of fun to only end in tragedy. Clouds came in swiftly blocking visibility, causing a catastrophic plane crash that killed 24 men and women instantly. Three lucky survivors, although seriously burned, miraculously walked away.
Lost in Shangri-La is the amazing story of their many months spent deep in the perilous jungle of New Guinea. Lost and alone, they were in drastic need of food, water, supplies, and more than anything, medical attention. John McCollum, Kenneth Decker, and a beautiful blonde petite WAC named Margaret Hastings were in rough shape. Maggie's legs were horribly burned, Decker's entire backside was worse, and although McCollum was able to walk away uninjured, he lost his twin brother in the flames. Walking to a nearby hillside brought the trio a little hope when the jungle walls parted and a group of frightening natives emerged, bows and arrows and spears at the ready.
The story proceeds to detail the many ups and downs and daily obstacles the three survivors must endure, along with their enchantment of living amongst a lost tribe as if they had gone back in time to early civilization to visit primitive cave men. Eventually Army scouts locate them, drop supplies and follow up with a carefully planned daring rescue attempt. A dangerous mission in itself, finding a way to get their people out when no plane, boat, or helicopter can get close enough to the ground to land, puts the military to the test.
I found the story of Lost in Shangri-La immensely interesting. For certain the event was a rare unusual accident for those that survived the trauma, yet lived to witness a primitive society previously unknown to man. That aspect of the book I enjoyed. However, I never really felt a great deal of intensity of hazard for what they experienced. I was not riveted or sitting on the edge of my seat. I believe that was the fault of the style of writing Zuckoff used. The execution of the story was at times very dry, almost too factual, and had a carefree attitude in the telling of these events. The writing itself, for me, didn't portray the drama that this event certainly must have had.
A major gripe I had was that there was a lot of filler and fluff. Serious editing needed to be performed on this manuscript. The author detailed way too much background history on every single person mentioned in the story. Everyone's childhood, family, school, careers, was just too much information not applicable to the main heart of the story. I think if a lot of that boring data had been taken out, the book would have been more enjoyable. I found myself skipping paragraphs of this mundane minutia, wishing for additional stories of the natives themselves and the interaction between the two parties. It's a good story, but it certainly could have been better with a little more literary drama to give it some zip.
on May 2, 2011
I'm not usually a non-fiction, war story type of reader but when I saw this title listed on the TLC Tours as an available review option I didn't have to think long. I mean, the title alone is quite the eye-catcher and then, once the book was received, I read the first few pages and immediately was hooked.
One of the most compelling aspects of this book is Zuckoff's desire to acquaint the reader with the individual history and events leading up to each "central" character in this story. Rather than letting us read a bone-dry rehashing of the actual events, each survivor (and even those who didn't survive) were talked about, introduced and made to feel real so that when the fateful moment occurred, I felt a sense of loss and grief.
Interspersed through the pages of the book are pictures, allowing the reader to not only learn about the people but to put a face to the name and that made it even more real to me.
The story itself is an incredible one. Beyond incredible. When you take into consideration all of the events leading up to the eventual rescue of Margaret Hastings, John McCollom and Kenneth Decker, it seems incredible that everything fell so neatly into place. The bravery of those three individuals and their rescuers astounds me and made me feel a sense of pride and wonder at their strength and endurance through something that I cannot even imagine getting through myself.
If you have a reader fond of WWII stories, if you are fond of non-fiction or.. if you want to take a chance to read a story that needs to be told and talked about then this is a perfect, prime example of one.
on April 26, 2011
American servicemen and women, New Guinea, and WW II, are the backdrops for Lost in Shangri-La.
Margaret Hastings' life as a WAC in New Guinea is the main focus. Margaret and the other servicemen and women on site longed to see Shangri-La, so their captain arranged for a day trip. Little did the twenty-four passengers realize that their dream to see the hidden villages in the jungle would not turn out to be what they expected. When something went wrong during the flight, it crashed into a mountain, and the nightmare began.
Out of the twenty-four passengers only three survived, and these three were burned, hurt, and starving. They painfully made their way to a clearing and were spotted by an American plane, but they were also spotted by hundreds of the island's inhabitants who approached with spears. Luckily continual smiling at the island's people assured them that the strangers were not a cause for alarm. No way of communication other than hand gestures and smiles made it difficult, but at least they were still alive, and the indigenous people were friendly.
As the three survivors waited out each day in pain and in hopes of being saved, their rescue team was simultaneously in the process of being organized. Being accepted by the island's inhabitants became somewhat better each day, but their wounds were increasingly becoming more infected and painful. Margaret and Decker were in the most pain, and thankfully McCollum was somewhat strong and alert.
When the rescue medics finally arrived, it hadn't been too soon...gangrene was starting to set in, and a few more days without medical treatment may have meant death. The other half of the rescue team landed a few days later, but getting to the survivors was being hampered by the foliage and continuous rain. They finally arrived, and everyone waited for the flight team that would take them off the inaccessible island.
The rescue from the island was every bit as eventful and fascinating as the time spent there.
The book is a marvelous read, beautifully written, and an outstanding re-creation of events. Mr. Zuckoff should be commended for his research, and Ms. Hastings and Mr. Walter should also be commended for keeping a daily journal so that their tale could be told all these years later.
You will love hearing about the lives of the natives and their legends and also of the lives of those who survived and who took part in the rescue....wonderful facts and information.
The photos greatly enhanced the book. To me it was another not well-known part of history coming alive. World War II enthusiasts should not miss reading this book. 5/5
on May 3, 2011
"Lost in Shangri-La" by Mitchell Zuckoff is a non-fiction book about a plane crash in Dutch New Guinea during World War II. This book is narrative history at its best.
Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea was a strategic area during World War II, General McArthur made it his headquarters before the Philippines invasion. However, life was rough in Hollandia and the soldiers worked hard. To raise moral Colonel Peter Prossen gave the soldiers a treat - a sightseeing tour, from the air, of a lost valley unknown to cartographers complete with natives.
The valley was nicknamed Shangri-La
During one trip the transport plane crashed, killing almost everyone on board. The others had to fend for themselves in a hostile environment hoping rescue is on its way.
"Lost in Shangri-La" by Mitchell Zuckoff is a gripping book which takes a hold of you from page one, and doesn't let go until the very end. Mr. Zuckoff makes history comes alive by introducing the reader to the survivors, those who died, the rescuers, friends and family. I was so engrossed in the book I felt almost as if my friends were the ones on the ground.
Mr. Zuckoff relies on personal diaries, interviews, declassified documents, film footage and more to bring this mesmerizing tale to life. This book is not a glorification of the US Army or World War II, after all - a military plane crashed during a joy ride. But the book is about the human spirit.
Focusing on the survivors, WAC Corporal Margaret Hastings, Lieutenant John McCollom, and Sergeant Kenneth Decker, the author pays particular attention not to tell the story solely from their point of view, but also gives much do credit to the unsung heroes, the paratroopers, medics, support personnel and the natives.
The natives play a huge part in the book, one could say that the rescue wouldn't have been successful without their involvement. Mr. Zuckoff does a fantastic job researching and trying to understand their complex culture. I don't know if anyone involved realized how fragile the rescue was due to the terrain and the permanent state of war between the natives.
The real strength of the book is the characterization of the real-life figures, not only of the soldiers involved, but also of the natives whose lives have been forever changed. Each one is written about in a very personal way which makes you want to jump in the pages and shake their hands.
After letting the readers know how each member of the huge cast faired off, the book ends on a very thought provoking note. The natives' lives were disrupted, even though their way of living seemed primitive to us, it worked for them. In a few short decades their way of life barely exists, proud warriors now pose for photos and their land destroyed for minerals.
on May 2, 2011
Reason for Reading: I love true war stories but I also love true survival stories, so this doubly appealed to me.
A sight-seeing plane carrying 24 enlisted passengers across the jungle of modern day New Guinea (who were stationed nearby) crashed and burned leaving a total of three survivors in a remote valley inhabited by tribes who mostly had not seen white men before and still lived in the stone age. This books gives the complete story of these people, enlisted and native. Prior to the fateful plane trip we meet the individuals who will be on board and learn their story, how and why they came to be aboard and some who just barely missed being passengers. We learn of life at the base of Hollandia where they were stationed, paratroopers on standby, enlisted soldiers waiting for deployment to somewhere else (where the action is) and a group of WACS fulfilling their enlisted duties.
We go through terrifying details of how the crash was probably caused though no blame has ever been laid by officials and the gory aftermath of the scene. Of the three survivors, only one is unharmed, the other two have serious burns and other injuries and thus starts their survival story where they eventually meet up with the natives of the land. Mostly a war-like people, but little do the survivors know that they are fulfilling a legend of the natives.
The main focus of the book though, is in the rescue of these people, as others are sent down to tend to their medical needs and set up a base of operations. The valley is surrounded by mountains too high and cross winds too dangerous. It is too narrow for an airstrip landing. The outside terrain is rough, dangerous, inhabited by known cannibalistic tribes and the island is also inhabited by hidden Japanese units. Rescue seems near impossible from any route: across land, by water or by air. But as the incident becomes known back in America and the one survivor a pretty WAC, reaches the interests of Hollywood, the pressure is doubled to make sure the rescue attempt is successful. The final solution is quite the thing and could only have happened at this time in history.
A captivating story that starts with daily enlisted life on a tropical island where no real wartime action was being seen at this point, an horrific plane crash and the emotional and mental endurance of the survivors. The interesting transformation of the (I won't say white men as many of them were Filipino) "civilized" people's opinion's of the natives whom they regularly called "savages" at first to the the respectful attitude they held when they said their tearful goodbyes. This is a good read, a quick read and a non-fiction story that keeps the reader reading and enthralled. The author's personal interviews with some of the survivors and having gone back to the scene of the crash and talked to those natives who were children when the events happened he's managed to bring the natives' perspective of the events to the reader as well. An enjoyable and fascinating read.
on June 24, 2011
Review after enticing review of this superbly written adventure story has unfolded and I can only add kudos for the great read that is LOST IN SHANGRI LA. However, a different slant is called for here. As the daughter of one of the crash victims, Robert McCollom, and the niece of his twin and survivor, John McCollom, I grew up hearing the story unfold in multiple layers of fact, reflection, grief and gratitude. Learning of Mitchell Zuckoff's research and subsequent writing of LOST IN SHANGRI LA came out of the blue, making it easy for me to simply wallow in sentimental fauning over something so personal. On the contrary, I've have been given not only a gift of personal history but an exceptionally balanced account that is thought provoking on so many levels: the hidden grief, and obvious heroism, of my uncle, Margaret Hastings and Kenneth Decker; the commitment of Army personnel to invent and carry out a rescue solution; the partnering of the Philipino paratroopers and medics; the unlikely and mysterious coming together of survivors and Dani tribespeople, from a 40,000 year old civilization, fraught with unknowingly shared senses of danger mixed with curiosity and ultimately friendship and support. And don't miss the thread of humor: misunderstandings between peoples about who's dressed and who isn't; the tragic/comic option of rescue by glider; the daft but brilliant parachute jump of a drunken filmmaker, plus more.
Mitchell Zuckoff has not only written a page-turner of exceptional nuance, energy and beauty, he has rescued a piece of hidden history and brought to light a topical and relevant element of war: the relationship of human to human and people to people that provokes us to look at our world today for possibilities of peace inherent in a world grown smaller every day.
I am a sucker for good survival stories. And the premise of this true story by Marshall Zuckoff is a great yarn about a little known story in the closing months of World War II.
However, this book is not just a survival story about a plane crash, but it is also a book about a little known area of New Guinea that this crash occurred in 1945. As with all great survival stories, the routine `three hour tour' becomes an epic tale of survival.
From the opening paragraphs, I knew this was going to be a good book, and I was not disappointed. I had actually heard of this story of three survivors of a horrible sightseeing crash during 1945 in a theatre that has received little American attention (New Guinea). I also knew vaguely of the fact that feared `head-hunters' had protected the survivors despite their fearsome reputation. This reputation was such that one participant stated he would rather die by hiking through Japanese occupied lands than die being eaten by a cannibal. And so, Zuckoff tells an interesting story that never lost my attention.
I really liked that the author, who is also a journalism professor, never loses sight of the interesting stories that made up a complex tale. From the beautiful WAC, to the various officers and men who made up the rescue party, the story is very interesting and exciting and I really liked how Zuckoff weaves all kinds of anecdotes about not only the Americans, but also the tribesman who had never seen outsiders before and believed them to be spirits. Talk about a cargo cult, what must have been the thoughts as these soldiers flew in with metal machines and dropped things from the skies?
The fascination in knowing that the author went to the crash sight and interviewed some of the participants only made for a more compelling book.
on June 15, 2011
I had read Margaret Hastings account of the tragic Mother's Day Crash of May 13, 1945 and subsequent survival that was published in the Nov. 1945 Reader's Digest almost 15 years ago. When I heard Mitchell Zuckoff was going to write a book about the event I was certain it would contain much more information with a different perspective and he surely delivered. It was personal to me because my father was supposed to be on that flight and his best friend was killed taking his place as part of the flight crew. Dad suffered survivor's guilt and never spoke of the event. I only knew, until 8 years after his death, he named me after Melvin Mollberg. I was impressed with Mitchell's reconstruction of events leading to and through the crash, subsequent tragedy, and remarkable escape of a few survivors from the wreckage. I found it remarkable the compassion exhibited by the natives when they confronted the weakened and injured survivors in their totally isolated world. I enjoyed his conveyance of the misconceptions the participants had of each other and especially between the natives and rescue party. The different personalities of all the perticipants involved seemed they could be a cast of actors instead of a broad spectrum of average people thrust into a tenacious quest for survival and a rescue by at first unknown means. The bravery of Capt Walter and his Filipino paratroopers was typical of any rescuer intent on saving lives even with the possiblity of losing their own. The list of characters in the rescue planning and implementation continued to be amusing and worthy of respect when at any turn disaster could strike again. Mitchell's impressive investigation and interviews with surviving partcipants and relatives of those deceased gave this hsitorical tragedy a very personal perspective. Lost In Shangri-La was a very enjoyable read for me and needless to say I definetely recommend it.