The Lost Horizon (James Hilton)

In the early 1930s four people, two British political officials, a British missionary woman and an American financier, escape the political unrest in Baskul, China by boarding a plane, bound for Peshawar. The plane, however, has been hijacked and eventually crash lands deep in the far reaches of the Tibetan Himalayas. Seeking shelter, the group soon finds themselves in the valley of the blue moon, guests at a lamasery, a place named…Shangri-La! This classic novel clips along in eleven short chapters making it pleasingly easy to read and absorb.

The story kicks off when our lead character, Conway, is found in a hospital by a friend of his and he has no memory of anything before he came to be there. His friend takes him out and puts him on boat back to England. On this boat a man is playing Chopin on a piano and this seems to stir something deep within Conway. As the pianist is leaving the room, Conway goes to the piano and begins to play a unknown piece of music that is however obviously Chopin’s. But how can this be? The pianist is truly confused as to where he learned this piece of music and how can it be Chopin’s? Conway’s memories come alive that evening and he in turn recites his long, mysterious tale of Shangri-La to his friend. Once they land, Conway is no where to be found. Instead, he has booked a boat heading east hoping to find his way back.

There are reasons certain books become classics. They speak with a voice that is ageless, containing a plot that reflects the human experience and/or connects with a deep part of the psyche. Reading a classic work of literature for the first time is akin to discovering an unknown family member – someone who expresses a familiarity of experience that is rooted in genetics, needs no explanation or translation to be understood and is a friend upon meeting. The Lost Horizon is like this. The story that Conway tells is a a wonderous tale of a utopian society that not only brings long life, but peace and tranquility as one has never known. To leave your attachments behind and to embrace serenity and calmness is so enticing. To never be confined by the handcuffs of time and be surrounded by such beauty. I think for those of us who are seeking enlightenment, can only dream of a place like Shangri-La. I for one would love to just know a place like this really existed. Rarely has any book seized my imagination as quickly nor held it as firmly as this one. There were points where I had to stop reading and reground myself in the present, so real was the feel of Shangri-La…

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