Monday, September 5, 2011

Lost in Shangri-La

When an offer to get an Advanced Reader Copy for Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff appeared in my morning email, I jumped on it.  World War II events are fascinating and I have plenty of history buffs in my family to share this with.

My Dad read it before I did and he liked it!  Good.  So, I sat down with it.  Reporting on an actual event requires a different set of writing skills.  Zuckoff's pace is excellent.  He hooks you and then, when he's sure you're not going to wander off, he gives you information you need.  And the information you need is riveting stuff.

Here's what happened.  A group of Gis and WACs head off on a "pleasure flight" over the island known as Hollandia in New Guinea.  They intend to fly over a hidden valley, known by reporters as Shangri-La, that has never been charted.  The natives who live there are rumored to be giants who eat people.  Who wouldn't want to fly over and get a glimpse of this secret valley?

They crash.  In the valley.  Of giant cannibals.  Or so everyone thinks.  And only three of them survive the crash.  You have to read this book!

 Zuckoff gives a fascinating overview of the culture and belief system of these natives.   His reporting is complete and respectful.  He also gives a history of the only other exploration of the valley by a European, a scant decade or less before this event.  That exploration included a tragic violent meeting with the natives.  When that violent meeting is combined with the natives' ritual of revenge, our survivors are put in even more peril.

But the most fascinating, suspenseful and amazing part of this story is the heroism of the men who dropped into the valley to rescue the survivors and the amazing aeronautic feat that gets them all out.  I held my breath during this part. 

Zuckoff returned to the valley to interview any natives who remembered the crash, the survivors and the rescue.  He found the survivors or their families and got recent photos and stories of their lives.  He also interviewed some of the rescuers and the readers get an update on them as well.

What a great story!  And it is all true!  I see a movie in the future - or I certainly hope so.

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