Thursday, October 22, 2015

Lost in Shangri-la by Mitchell Zuckoff

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 3, 2015

On May 13, 1945, twenty-four American servicemen and WACs boarded a transport plane for a sightseeing trip over Shangri-La, a beautiful and mysterious valley deep within the jungle-covered mountains of Dutch New Guinea. Unlike the peaceful Tibetan monks of James Hilton's bestselling novel Lost Horizon, this Shangri-La was home to spear-carrying tribesmen, warriors rumored to be cannibals. But the pleasure tour became an unforgettable battle for survival when the plane crashed. Miraculously, three passengers pulled through. Margaret Hastings, barefoot and burned, had no choice but to wear her dead best friend's shoes. John McCollom, grieving the death of his twin brother also aboard the plane, masked his grief with stoicism. Kenneth Decker, too, was severely burned and suffered a gaping head wound. Emotionally devastated, badly injured, and vulnerable to the hidden dangers of the jungle, the trio faced certain death unless they left the crash site. Caught between man-eating headhunters and enemy Japanese, the wounded passengers endured a harrowing hike down the mountainside--a journey into the unknown that would lead them straight into a primitive tribe of superstitious natives who had never before seen a white man or woman. Drawn from interviews, declassified U.S. Army documents, personal photos and mementos, a survivor's diary, a rescuer's journal, and original film footage, Lost in Shangri-La recounts this incredible true-life adventure for the first time. Mitchell Zuckoff reveals how the determined trio--dehydrated, sick, and in pain--traversed the dense jungle to find help; how a brave band of paratroopers risked their own lives to save the survivors; and how a cowboy colonel attempted a previously untested rescue mission to get them out. By trekking into the New Guinea jungle, visiting remote villages, and rediscovering the crash site, Zuckoff also captures the contemporary natives' remembrances of the long-ago day when strange creatures fell from the sky. 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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I'm not sure who decided to dub Mitchell Zuckoff's Lost in Shangri-La a thrill ride in the blurb, but I respectfully disagree with the assessment. I mean no offense, but the book put me to sleep on multiple occasions and that's not an experience I associate with heart-pounding, adrenaline inducing excitement.

To be clear, I liked the content. There's a certain novelty to the subject matter and I enjoyed digging into a story that isn't particularly well-known. I felt Zuckoff's research thoroughly detailed and I enjoyed the enthusiasm he had for the story.

Unfortunately, I found the telling dry and plodding. Stylistically, the book did nothing for me and that made it incredibly difficult to share in the author's interest and passion. The tone flattens as the story unfolds and takes on a repetitive quality that thoroughly quashed my curiosity and concern for the survivors and their ultimate fate. 

I'm glad I finished Lost in Shangri-la, but when push comes to shove I don't see myself recommending it to others. Interesting though it is, Zuchoff's telling didn't jump from the page or captivate the imagination and I'm hesitant to put forward a title I forced myself to complete. 
  
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“Fear is something I don’t think you experience unless you have a choice. If you have a choice, then you’re liable to be afraid. But without a choice, what is there to be afraid of? You just go along doing what has to be done.” 
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