Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lost in Shangri-La

Lost in Shangri-La
By Mitchell Zuckoff
HarperCollins, 2011. 384 pgs. Adult Nonfiction

In May of 1945, a popular activity at the U.S. Army base in Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea, was taking flights to see "Shangri-La," a remote part of the island, completely isolated, surround by mountains and rain forests, with thousands of native inhabitants. Although others had completed this trip, for one group, it didn't turn out so well. When their plane crashed, twenty-one soldiers and WACs died--but three survived. Margaret Hastings and Kenneth Decker, both badly wounded in the crash, and John McCollum (whose twin died in the crash) lived but they were in a remote area of the world, wondering if the natives were cannibalistic, if the Army would be able to evacuate them, and if gangrene would lead to emergency amputation. The Army was able to parachute medics and other soldiers in to help the survivors, but they still didn't know how to get them out.

This is an engaging true story, which, although published for adults, would likely appeal to teen readers interested in WWII and survival stories. (I will say, though, there are pictures of the native men, who traditionally wore penis gourds and little else; some readers might not want to skip the photos.) The details about the survivors as well as the natives are interesting; the rescue was a little less dramatic than what I thought it would be, based on both the dust jacket and the chapters leading up to it, but still, it moves well and is an engaging piece of nonfiction.

4 stars.

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