Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Lost in Shangri-la
In every immediate way, the natives had the upper hand. They outnumbered the survivors by more than ten to one. They were healthy and well fed. None suffered burns, head injuries, or gangrene.

Towards the end of World War 2, a transport plane takes off from a base in Hollandia, New Guinea, with 24 passengers, on a sightseeing trip to the Shangri-La valley, where an isolated and primitive tribe was said to live. Unfortunately for them, the plane crashed, killing 19 instantly. Of the remaining 5, 2 succumbed to their injuries almost soon. The last remaining survivors, suffering  from rib fractures and gangrenes, trek through the treacherous mountains, hoping to find some sanctuary but soon come across the natives, who are as fascinated at these strangely attired white people as they are at the near-naked natives.

Once the news of the missing plane reaches their base, a search plane and later a rescue party is dispatched. But rescuing three wounded people from the thick unmapped jungle territory was not a trivial task, nor was it something that could be easily planned for. Not helping rescue efforts is their limited knowledge (or lack thereof) of the natives and the valley. They had heard of cannibalism among the tribes and the frequent warfare that broke out between different clans.

Lost in Shangri-La has been on my wishlist ever since it was released four years ago. But I must not have remembered the details correctly because I walked into this book with very wrong expectations. I had a picture of a very dark book, where three survivors had to battle cannibalism, treacherous forests, dangerous natives, and several other dangers before escaping or being rescued. Unfortunately (fortunately for the survivors), reality was a lot more predictable than that. For much of the book, I was waiting for those shocking elements to happen, but really, nothing did. Yes, some bad stuff happened, but on the whole it was a happy ending. I really hate being bummed that this true rescue story wasn't as tragic or dangerous as I thought it would be. But that expectation honestly ruined much of the narration for me.

But, this book was otherwise a treasure trove of information about the tribes, the valley, all the people who had previously come in contact with the tribe or the valley in the past, and also the members of the rescue party. I admit to drifting off occasionally because it was a lot of information and I was still waiting for the tragic stuff to happen, but otherwise there was a lot of good stuff in here. It was truly satisfying to learn that the natives were not savages, as assumed by many people. There were some really good people there and they held strongly to their customs, practices and way of life.

Of everything that was narrated in this book, the saddest detail was about the encroachment of the modern world into the lives of these natives. Gone is the sacred isolation that kept them native and mostly self-sufficient. With the arrival of more explorers and adventurers, the natives have lost much of their land and their old way of life.


This audiobook is from my personal library.

7 comments:

bermudaonion(Kathy) said...

A non-reading friend of mine raved about this book and I've wanted to read it ever since. It sounds intense. I need to pick it up.

Sam_TinyLibrary said...

I really enjoyed this one, but I received an unsolicited review copy of it and therefore had no expectations. I can see why you were a little bit disappointed!

iliana said...

I don't know if this is something I would read to be honest just because I think I would find it too intense!

Athira / Aths said...

It is a great book to read. All the historical information was just very interesting to learn.

Athira / Aths said...

I wish I didn't have wrong expectations from this book. I thought the book was about A but it actually turned to be about B. Other than that, it was a good read.

Athira / Aths said...

It actually isn't too intense. Intense is what I was expecting it to be but it turned out to be a little mellow.

Melinda @ The Book Musings said...

Sounds like a good one!