Lost in Shangri-La (Book Review)

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The book Lost in Shangri-La, written by Mitchell Zuckoff, is the story of twenty-four U.S. Army servicemen and members of the Women’s Army Corps who go on a sightseeing trip over the New Guinean valley known as “Shangri-La” on May 13, 1945. What was supposed to be a simple tour turns into a fight for survival when their plane, the Gremlin Special, crashes on the uncharted island. Only three passengers survive – WAC Corporal Margaret Hastings, Lieutenant John McCollom, and Sergeant Kenneth Decker. Two WACs Laura Besley and Eleanor Hanna survive the crash but die from their critical injuries shortly after. Since Hastings is badly burned and Decker has a serious head injury, McCollom becomes the group’s leader. The trio realizes they are on their own and must learn to survive in this new place. The survivors are in pain but endure a trek to an area where they might be spotted from the air. They are spotted by a B-17 bomber and the pilot reports the sighting to the U.S. Army.

The three survivors are continuing their journey to higher ground when they run into a superstitious tribe of natives who are rumored to be cannibals. McCollom tells Decker and Hastings to smile, and the tribe leader Wimayuk Wandik (nicknamed “Pete” by McCollom) welcomes them. The natives believe that the survivors are sky spirits whose return would mean the end of the world. However, the natives and the survivors learn about each other and get closer. While the survivors and natives become friends, Capt. C. Earl Walter Jr and Filipino-American paratroopers come up with a rescue mission. They bravely volunteer to parachute into the jungle and bring the survivors out.With them is Alexander McCann, a documentary filmmaker who is interested in filming the rescue and the mysterious land. The U.S. Army drops off food from planes for all of them while they continue to come up with a plan to get everyone out of the valley. The medics who came in with the paratroopers tend to the wounds of the survivors and help them recuperate.  The paratroopers came to rescue the survivors despite knowing that they would be in extreme danger. This shows a recurring theme of overcoming disaster through bravery and determination.

The subject of Lost in Shangri-La is survival, which can be seen when the survivors rely on each other to stay alive in the valley. The book is written very well, with the themes making a strong foundation for the major events of the story. Zuckoff uses rich language that makes the reader feel as if they are alongside the survivors in Shangri-La.

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