Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bookish Thoughts: Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Mission Rescue of World War II 
by Mitchell Zuckoff
Harper, 2011
Nonfiction; 400 pgs


I love to give books as gifts, especially to my dad. When the anniversary of his birthday came last January, I caught myself picking out books I would like to have given him if he was still alive. It’s become such second nature. As much as he loved mysteries and thrillers, I never quite seemed to put my finger on what he liked most (I sure did try though!)—but when it came to nonfiction, it was easy peasy. Mitchell Zuckoff’s Lost in Shangri-La is exactly the type of book I would have gotten for him (with the stipulation that he loan it to me after).

World War II has always been a particular interest of mine (thanks, Dad!) and so it was only natural that I would gravitate towards Lost in Shangri-La for myself as well. It’s an amazing story as well as a tragic one.

The author provides an inside view to the events leading up to and after that fateful Mother’s Day, May 13, 1945, when the Gremlin Special went down in the remote mountainous jungle of Dutch New Guinea. Twenty-four American serviceman and Women's Army Corps (WACs) were on board the plane that day. As a bit of fun, their commanding officer was treating them to a trip to see “Shangri-La” first hand. Shangri-La was a supposed paradise with natives still living in the stone ages, untouched by the world war going on around them.

Despite the loss of their friends and comrades and life threatening injuries, the three survivors did what they could to survive, hoping against hope for rescue. Meanwhile, efforts to send in a rescue team were underway and a group of eager paratroopers were called upon to assist.

I got to know many of the victims and survivors as well as the major players involved in the rescue, including the natives. Mitchell Zuckoff conducted in-depth interviews with survivors and family and friends of those who were touched by the event in some way, dug through declassified military documents, relied on personal diaries and journals, and viewed film footage. He did an excellent job bringing it—and the people involved—to life.

Lost in Shangri-La reads like a novel, proving yet again how interesting real life can be. Even as sensational a story as it is and the media made it out to be at the time, Zuckoff takes great care with the story and with those he writes about. This book is much more about the people, about their will to survive, and about the human spirit.

The area in which the survivors found themselves was (and is) extremely remote. Very few outsiders had ever been there before. The terrain was very rough, dense with growth and rocky in many parts. The survivors were very lucky in many respects and the rescuers even more so. The rescue itself was quite harrowing. The military had to be creative in determining how to get into the area and get out again. I found myself holding my breath several times throughout the book and praying alongside Margaret Hastings, one of the survivors, even though I knew the outcome of the events of that time were already sealed.

I appreciated the author’s research and thoughts about the natives in then Dutch New Guinea. The misunderstandings between the Americans and natives were at times humorous, admittedly, but, when you think about it, had circumstances been different, it could have proved to be very dangerous and deadly for all involved. I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad for the natives knowing how much their way of life was about to change once their existence was fully known. “Progress” was about to come their way—and, as we all know, “progress” isn’t always favorable.

Lost in Shangri-La did not disappoint. It was an emotional journey for not only the real life people involved but for this reader as well. I don’t know that I would have been as strong in such circumstances.

I was fortunate enough to receive a paperback copy of the book for this tour and included in the back were letters written to the author, responses by friends and family of those involved in the crash or rescue effort. I had to stop several times as I read through the letters because they were causing me to tear up.

I can’t say enough about this book. I am sure my dad would have loved it as much as I did.

To learn more about the Mitchell Zuckoff and his book, please visit the author's website.

I hope you will check out what others had to say on the TLC Book Tours route!

Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour. Copy of Lost in Shangri-La provided by the publisher.






© 2012, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

22 comments:

  1. I really have to read this one at some point. I love when non-fiction reads like a novel. Great review!

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    1. Anna, I think you would really like it, especially given your interest in all things World War II related. I really liked the author's writing style and plan to look for his backlist to see if something else he's written catches my interest.

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  2. I loved this one on audio last year - those letter must have been something. When I think about this book, aside from all the heroics and survival and amazing circumstances, the first thing that comes to my mind is when the men though they needed to prove to the natives that they were men. Hilarious scene!

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    1. That moment in the jungle was hilarious, Carrie. I was at work when I read that particular scene and I couldn't stop laughing. Everyone around me was asking what was so funny. I don't think I will ever forget that part of the book.

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  3. I keep reading wonderful things about this book. I need to try to get to it soon.

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    1. It's such an interesting story and that rescue was so risky--and amazing. I hope you do get a chance to read it, Kathy.

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  4. This is exactly the kind of book that makes my brain explode! I guess it has to have really happened for me to take it seriously. I've had the book in my head since it came out...the people at EW loved it. Like you, I love anything related to WWII as well. Great review!

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    1. Thanks, Sandy! I thought the author did a really good job of presenting the crash and rescue. It was interesting how the media portrayed it at the time--they definitely played it up, sometimes with outright lies.

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  5. I have been watching a lot of WWII stories on the Military Channel, and just when I think that I know everything I need to know about this war, up pops a book that gives me an entirely new story! This sounds fascinating, and like it was not only had its nail biting moments, but also like it was really well written. This was an amazing review. And I also have to tell you that it touched my heart to read that you pick out a book for your dad and read it, even though he is gone. A lovely sentiment to be sure. Fantastic review today.

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    1. Heather (Zibilee) - I hadn't heard of this particular event either. I imagine there are a lot of stories out there we may never know, which is sad in a way. The men involved with the rescue really do deserve credit.

      I couldn't help but think of my dad as I read this one. I was thinking I might try and read a book for him every year--pick one that I would have given him as a gift just as a remembrance.

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  6. I've looked at this book several times but wasn't sure about it. After reading your excellent review, I'm going to download it for sure. My dad was in the Pacific during WWII and I've always been drawn to books about it, like you.

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    1. Linda - I hope you do get a chance to read it. I would love to know what you think.

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  7. Sounds like a satisfying read and so nice that you had your dad in mind when you picked it out.

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    1. Kathleen - I'm not sure what it has been about the last two months . . . My dad's been on my mind a lot lately and it's been rough. Reading a book that reminded moe of him helped a lot.

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  8. Oh, I never thought about how I would still be looking at books thinking how much my parents would like them even after they're gone. What a nice way to remember you dad! This book sounds fantastic. Maybe for my dad!

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    1. Lisa - I didn't expect it either, to be honest, and yet I constantly find myself coming across books and thinking of my dad. Maybe it's because the loss is still so fresh. I don't know.

      I am considering getting a copy for my father-in-law for Father's Day. :-)

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  9. wow, i'm really going to have to find time for this. i like nonfiction sometimes and i think this would be right up my alley. and yes, a great father's day gift perhaps!

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    1. Marie - I was thinking that too! A great Father's Day gift. :-) I do hope you get a chance to read it. It's definitely worth it.

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  10. Ooh, I didn't know about the bonus material in the back of this version! I've read the book already but now I need to get my hands on the paperback version to check out those letters ...


    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

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    1. Heather J. - It seems a little unfair that publishers do that--tuck in something new when the paperback version comes out forcing those hardback cover owners to seek out another copy, but it's smart business, isn't it? I'm really glad I didn't rush out to buy the hardcover like I first planned.

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  11. Oh, the bonus material is sneaky! Now I wan to get the paperback edition so I can read it, too!

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