Lost in Shangri-La: Mitchell Zuckoff
The opening chapters almost convinced me that I was reading one of those annoying ‘books of the film’. The structure of the early narrative, the gradual introduction of all the main characters, the film-script style of the writing………I was nearly convinced that this story had started life as a film. But I was wrong. What I was reading was the incredible true account of the US transporter plane that had crash-landed in the remote jungle of New Guinea, during the closing months of WW2. The flight had started as a simple sight-seeing trip for bored off-duty service men and women, but the combination of dense cloud and the inexperience of the pilot led to a crash in uncharted mountains that killed 19 of the 22 crew & passengers, and the bulk of the narrative goes on to cover the extraordinary tale of the three survivors and their encounter with one of the few remaining primitive cultures that had been untouched by the modern world.
This story may not have started life as a film, but I will be very surprised if it doesn’t make its way to the big screen in the next few years. It has all the hallmarks of a classic Hollywood blockbuster that will rein in some of the best of the A-celeb actors. But if it does, I am sure of one thing: it will not highlight some of the darker undertones of this “discovery” of uncharted jungle. It will focus on the heroism of the protagonists, but not the devastating encroachment on the indigenous community’s way of life. The Dani tribes-people had occupied this jungle for hundreds (even thousands) of years, untouched by invading and colonizing nations. In 1945 their culture was as pure and undefiled as any primitive culture could be. But their sweet-natured tolerance of the presence of the survivors, and their offer of aid, was their ultimate undoing. Their way of life and the jungle in which they lived was about to change forever. What appears to be a story of heroism, in reality, is a narrative about how the West (once again) colonizes and destroys a pure and undefiled culture.