Tuesday, June 12

Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

All too often history books are plain boring.  They include too many events that are only present because the author is a history buff who can’t bear to let tiny details slip through the cracks.  They suffer from writing devoid of any personality, as if your eighth grade history teacher wrote it.  Even worse is when they offer up nothing new, but seem to paraphrase every other book on the same subject. 

Thankfully, not all history books are created equal.  Every once in a while comes a book which makes you forget that the event happened decades, or centuries, ago.  You are drawn into the story, rooting for the people involved, wondering how it’s going to end, and actually learning something interesting.  This is how I felt throughout Lost in Shangri-La.  Written by Mitchell Zuckoff, it was originally published in hardcover in 2011 and is now being released in paperback.

I enjoy a good adventure story, and even though I had never heard of the book before I received a copy, it sounded promising.  On May 13, 1945, during World War II, a plane crashed in the mysterious valley of Shangri-La in New Guinea.  This area of dense jungle  was inhabited by natives who had never come in contact with modern man.  The plane contained twenty four members of the U.S. Army.  Only 3 survived the crash and they still had the jungle to survive.  Injured and unsure whether the natives were cannibalistic, the team of three knew rescue would be a long shot.  But a longshot is better than no shot.

To help set the story, Zuckoff often included extra bits of history, or showed a view of World War II beyond New Guinea.  Generally these truly supported the story.  In one instance he writes about a sort of glider which could be deployed by plane, and to give some historical background he described how they were used by the German army in World War I.  Though this was just an extra bit of history it was not only information I had never heard, but it was interesting.  Though there were occasional times where these asides went too long and I wanted to get back to New Guinea, the information was never boring.

By far, my favorite parts of the story revolved around the natives.  After the war the outside world began to creep into Shangri-La.  This allowed interviews to be conducted with the natives who interacted with the survivors of the crash, as the survivors never learned the native’s language.  Because of this, Zuckoff is able to show the lifestyle and beliefs of the natives.  While the culture barrier was sometimes able to be crossed by the crash survivors, there were times when each side’s interpretations were completely off. 

There was an especially humorous scene were a group of soldiers parachuted into the jungle on a rescue mission and encounter some natives.  The natives were unfamiliar with the clothing the soldiers wore and thought it was a sort of skin so they began touching it, trying to figure out what it was.  The soldiers thought the natives assumed they were women, so they stripped off their clothes to prove that they were men.  There were many other misunderstandings, but this one made me laugh the most.

Throughout the book, Zuckoff seeks to tell as accurate a story as possible to avoid fabrication of any event, from journals, interviews, military documents, and more, the amount of research put into the writing is both obvious and astounding.

Author, Mitchell Zuckoff
Whether you’re a history buff, or just enjoy a good adventure story, Lost in Shangri-La is an exciting, fast paced book.  And who knows, you might just learn a bit of history while reading.

4.5/5 stars

I received this book free from TLC Book Tours. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

1 comment:

  1. Oh, man, that misunderstanding with the natives and the clothes is HILARIOUS.

    I'm so glad you liked it! I wish all history could be told with the same level of storytelling that Zuckoff has told this story -- I think more kids would find history a lot more interesting!

    Thanks for being on the tour!