Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II

By Nuxoll, Kelly | The Christian Science Monitor, April 27, 2011 | Go to article overview

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II


Nuxoll, Kelly, The Christian Science Monitor


A true but little-known story from World War II resurfaces in this account of a plane crash that stranded 24 Americans in a Stone Age society.

If some stories are too good to be true, is it possible that some

stories are too true to be good? In his latest nonfiction narrative,

author Mitchell Zuckoff seems determined to find out.

Lost in Shangri-La tells the real-life story of a World War II plane

crash into a Dutch New Guinea valley so isolated that the inhabitants

have not yet discovered the wheel. This remarkable event made

headlines even at the time. Reporters from the Associated Press and

the Chicago Tribune rode along in the rescue plane, seeking intimate

details about the one surviving woman - a beautiful, unmarried WAC.

Not long after, a roguish documentary maker parachuted in to capture

key scenes on film. Everyone involved, it seemed, kept a diary. As a

result, "Lost in Shangri-La" is a jungle of personal and

historical details.

Some readers may find these details welcome. They will learn about

the reception of WACs in World War II; the history of military

gliders; and the bellicose customs of an aboriginal people who

created their own endless war on an Edenic island, even as they knew

nothing about the world war raging around the rest of the globe.

Readers will also learn, in exhaustive detail, the biographies of the

victims, survivors, rescuers, and native hosts - a cast that

approaches 50 characters.

10 best novels about the US Civil War

However, readers seeking a more sharply focused, novelistic approach

will likely be disappointed. Zuckoff's inclinations seem to be

expository rather than dramatic, and he offers more facts than

scenes. He also throws in the occasional commentary on the

Americans' pejoratives attitude toward the natives, asides that

keep the author and the reader in the role of historical voyeurs

rather than ersatz travelers sharing in the adventure.

To be sure, Zuckoff must work with the material he has. One trouble

with a plane crash in a hard-to-reach place is that during the weeks

survivors and their would-be saviors wait for a way to get out, there

is little to do. …

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