Well, having finished my visit to Kashmir, I thought I would head east and finish up my tour of Oceania. This is where my book tour becomes an education in geopolitics. You see, I read Lost in Shangri-la, a great book which I planned to use for my Papua, New Guinea stop on my world tour. As you may remember, I am trying to read at least 6 books from each of 6 regions of the world, each of the books from a distinct country/territory. This is not very hard, except for the region of Oceania, which contains Australia, New Zealand, and a scattering of islands in the South Pacific. Papua, New Guinea is considered Oceania. Indonesia isn’t–it’s considered Asia. And this is where my problem began. There is a place, variously known as Dutch New Guinea, Papua, and Irian Jaya. It is a province of Indonesia. It is NOT the same as Papua, New Guinea, which is the other half of the same island and an independent country. But you can see why I was confused. So my book, it turns out, takes place in Dutch New Guinea. ARGGGHHH! Fortunately, it was a great read. Unfortunately, I now need another Oceania book. Oh well. I do strongly recommend Lost in Shangri-la. My review is below, followed by the Goodreads Summary.
This is a fascinating non-fiction account of the crash of a small American military plane in an inaccessible valley in Dutch New Guinea in the waning days of WWII. The plane was carrying soldiers and WACs (Women’s Auxiliary military staff) on a sightseeing flight on a day off. The story follows the adventures of the small group of survivors as they encounter local cannibalistic warrior tribes and as they are supplied by paratroopers, treated by Philippino medics, and eventually rescued in a complex and daring effort. The reporter worked with interviews with a survivor of the crash and others involved in the rescue, as well as diaries, military records, and even video made in the valley by an actor-turned-jewel-thief-turned-military-film-maker who parachuted in to document the situation. This book is worth reading just for the amazing cross-cultural misunderstandings that ensue between the natives and the strange creatures who fall from the sky.
And now for the Goodreads summary: “On May 13, 1945, twenty-four American servicemen and WACs boarded a transport plane for a sightseeing trip over Shangri-La, a beautiful and mysterious valley deep within the jungle-covered mountains of Dutch New Guinea.
Unlike the peaceful Tibetan monks of James Hilton’s bestselling novel Lost Horizon, this Shangri-La was home to spear-carrying tribesmen, warriors rumored to be cannibals. But the pleasure tour became an unforgettable battle for survival when the plane crashed. Miraculously, three passengers pulled through. Margaret Hastings, barefoot and burned, had no choice but to wear her dead best friend’s shoes. John McCollom, grieving the death of his twin brother also aboard the plane, masked his grief with stoicism. Kenneth Decker, too, was severely burned and suffered a gaping head wound.
Emotionally devastated, badly injured, and vulnerable to the hidden dangers of the jungle, the trio faced certain death unless they left the crash site. Caught between man-eating headhunters and enemy Japanese, the wounded passengers endured a harrowing hike down the mountainside;a journey into the unknown that would lead them straight into a primitive tribe of superstitious natives who had never before seen a white man or woman.
Drawn from interviews, declassified U.S. Army documents, personal photos and mementos, a survivor’s diary, a rescuer’s journal, and original film footage, ‘Lost in Shangri-La’ recounts this incredible true-life adventure for the first time.
Mitchell Zuckoff reveals how the determined trio; dehydrated, sick, and in pain; traversed the dense jungle to find help; how a brave band of paratroopers risked their own lives to save the survivors; and how a cowboy colonel attempted a previously untested rescue mission to get them out.
By trekking into the New Guinea jungle, visiting remote villages, and rediscovering the crash site, Zuckoff also captures the contemporary natives’ remembrances of the long-ago day when strange creatures fell from the sky. A riveting work of narrative nonfiction that vividly brings to life an odyssey at times terrifying, enlightening, and comic, ‘Lost in Shangri-La’ is a thrill ride from beginning to end.”