Harper - Nonfiction/History/WWII
370 pages, incl. notes, sources and bibliography
Near the end of WWII, a group of nurses and soldiers stationed on what was then known as Dutch New Guinea left for a sightseeing flight over the interior of the island. Dubbed "Shangri-La," the island's interior was inhabited by natives whose daily lives involved almost continuous battles between their tribes. Because of the rugged terrain around them, the natives were extremely isolated and unacquainted with people of other skin colors or traditions. They were also superstitious and sometimes cannibalistic.
A series of small mistakes on the flight into the dangerous interior led to a horrendous crash of the plane, the Gremlin Special, into the side of a mountain. In spite of the tremendous wreckage and resulting fire, 3 of the plane's 24 crew and passengers managed to escape. But, they emerged injured and lost high on a mountain in a land where people still lived Stone-Age lifestyles and Japanese soldiers hid in the hills.
What happened to the survivors? Given the terrain and the fact that the enemy watched from the hillsides, how would rescuers find them and bring the injured survivors to safety? Would the rescuers even survive their perilous journey into the island's interior?
What I disliked about Lost in Shangri-La:
Lost in Shangri-La wasn't quite what I expected, but that may be my own fault. When I see "WWII" and "plane crash" or "survival" together, I'm interested. I was expecting to read about soldiers who crashed into the jungle, not a sight-seeing plane. It's possible that I merely skimmed the promotional material. The real-life characters were not quite what I expected, in other words, but that didn't really matter.
I did, however, dislike what the author had to say about the one surviving female. She was beautiful and she knew it. One of her fellow survivors was a man she had turned down when he asked her out on a date. She had to be tough and adventurous to have even ended up in a place like Dutch New Guinea, but I thought the emphasis on her beauty went a little overboard.
What I liked about Lost in Shangri-La:
Irritation about the focus on the beautiful Margaret Hastings aside, I think the book was marvelously, thoroughly researched and fascinating. The author delves into culture -- the differences between the natives of the island's interior and the people who have explored or crashed inside their isolated home, the beliefs and traditions of the natives. He also describes the details of the crash and how the survivors managed to stay alive, the variety of plans floated to rescue them and the eventual decision and outcome.
The bottom line:
While I would not say Lost in Shangri-La is the most exciting survival book I've ever read, nor a favorite, I enjoyed the reading and would say it's above average as far as the research and detail. I thought the author focused a little too much on the negative characteristics of many of the people involved in all aspects -- flight, survival, rescue. But, I found myself truly admiring the fortitude of the survivors. It's not the heart-pounding kind of rescue/survival story I like best, so Lost in Shangri-La is not a personal favorite, but I think it's well-written.