Lost in Shangri-la (Zuckoff)

Lost in Shangri-La:  A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II
Mitchell Zuckoff, 2011
400 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780061988349

In 1945, twenty-four American servicemen and women boarded a plane to see “Shangri-La,” a beautiful valley deep within Dutch New Guinea. But when the plane crashed, only three pulled through to battle for survival.

Emotionally devastated and badly injured, the trio faced certain death. Caught between spear-carrying tribesmen and enemy Japanese, they trekked down the jungle-covered mountainside and straight into superstitious natives rumored to be cannibals.

Drawn from interviews, Army documents, photos, diaries, and original film footage, Lost in Shangri-La recounts this true-life adventure for the first time. Mitchell Zuckoff reveals how the trio traversed the jungle; how brave Filipino-American paratroopers risked their lives to save the survivors; how a native leader protected the Americans; and how a cowboy colonel attempted an untried rescue mission to get them out.

A riveting work of nonfiction that brings to life an odyssey at times terrifying, enlightening, and comic, Lost in Shangri-La is a thrill ride from beginning to end. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Education—M.A., University of Missouri
Awards—Distinguished Writing Award from the American
   Society of Newspaper Editors; Livingston Award for
   International Reporting; Heywood Broun Award; Public
   Service Award from the AP Managing Editors
Currently—lives in Newton, Massachusetts, USA

Mitchell Zuckoff is a professor of journalism at Boston University. He is the author of Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II (2011); Robert Altman: The Oral Biography (2009); Ponzi’s Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend (2005) and Choosing Naia: A Family's Journey (2002); He is co-author with Dick Lehr of Judgment Ridge: The True Story Behind the Dartmouth Murders (2003).

His magazine work has appeared in The New Yorker, Fortune and elsewhere. As a reporter at the Boston Globe, Zuckoff was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for investigative reporting. He received the Distinguished Writing Award from the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Livingston Award for International Reporting, the Heywood Broun Award, and the Associated Press Managing Editors' Public Service Award.

Zuckoff received a master’s degree from the University of Missouri and was a Batten Fellow at the Darden School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia. He lives in Newton, Massachusetts. (From Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews
Zuckoff (Ponzi's Scheme) skillfully narrates the story of a plane crash and rescue mission in an uncharted region of New Guinea near the end of WWII. Of the 24 American soldiers who flew from their base on a sightseeing tour to a remote valley, only three survived the disaster, including one WAC. As the three waited for help, they faced death from untreated injuries and warlike local tribesmen who had never seen white people before and believed them to be dangerous spirits. Even after a company of paratroopers arrived, the survivors still faced a dangerous escape from the valley via "glider snatch." Zuckoff transforms impressive research into a deft narrative that brings the saga of the survivors to life. His access to journal accounts, letters, photos, military records, and interviews with the eyewitnesses allows for an almost hour-by-hour account of the crash and rescue, along with vivid portraits of his main subjects. Zuckoff also delves into the Stone Age culture of the New Guinea tribesmen and the often humorous misapprehensions the Americans and natives have about each other. In our contemporary world of eco-tourism and rain-forest destruction, Zuckoff's book gives a window on a more romantic, and naïve, era.
Publishers Weekly

Zuckoff presents an engaging story about the survival and ultimate rescue of three American service people who crashed in the dense jungles of New Guinea toward the end of World War II. While that is exciting enough in its own right, what makes Zuckoff's story an essential read is the interaction between these survivors and the indigenous tribe they encountered after crashing. Humorous and at times dangerous misunderstandings arose between the Americans and the indigenous people during the 46-day ordeal in the jungle. The tribe had never encountered white people before and assumed their "guests," including a young female WAC corporal, were spirits whose arrival fulfilled a prophecy of the end of the world. In a sense, this prophecy was true as after the rescue and the war, the Americans, Europeans, and Indonesians returned and changed the way of life that these tribes had followed for centuries. Verdict: This excellent book will be enjoyed by anyone who loves true adventure stories of disaster and rescue such as Alfred Lansing's Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage. —Michael Farrell, Reformed Theological Seminary Lib., Oviedo, FL
Library Journal

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Lost in Shangri-la:

1. What would it feel like to be dropped, literally, from the mid-20th century into the stone age? How would you cope? Had you survived the crash of the Gremlin, what would be most difficult for you—pain, lack of food and water, personal hygiene, fear, waiting...and waiting for rescue?

2. Do the Americans find Eden when they crash into the jungle of New Guinea? What role does war play in the Dani tribal culture? If you've ever read The Lord of the Flies, is there a strange parallel here?

3. What are the attitudes of the Dani islanders and Americans toward one another? In what way do those attitudes change...or do they? Discuss what happens when the paratroopers arrive to set up camp.

4. The Dani had a myth that one day pale spirits would descend from the sky...and nothing would ever be the same. Were the natives better off after their brush with the modern world...or not?

5. Author Zuckoff traces the lives of the crash survivors in later years. How were their lives affected by their month in the jungle?

6. Zuckoff provides a great deal of historical exposition—on military gliders, the WACs in World War II, and the native islanders' customs and warfare? Was the background material interesting? If so, what did you find most enlightening? Or is it "information overload," a distraction from what might have been a more dramatic, sharply focused narrative?

7. Trapped in such an isolated location, waiting for a way out, there is little to keep the survivors occupied. Many spend their time wishing they were somewhere else. Yet, later, one of the survivors said the experience was one of the highlights of his life. How might you have felt? How difficult would it be for you to pass the time?

8. Question #7 brings up the age old query: if you were shipwrecked on a desert (or jungle) island what would you wish to have with you (aside from the basic necessities of life)?

9. Who among the victims, survivors, native hosts, rescuers do you admire? Or find most interesting?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online of off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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