Recently I went for a long weekend in an old farmhouse in upstate New York with friends. The group included several authors, a few educators, a literature PhD or two, and a psychotherapist, and although we were all familiar with the novel, or, at least, we knew it was about Shangri-La, not one of us had ever read Lost Horizon by James Hilton. It is, therefore, officially, the most unread classic of twentieth century literature. Or it was last weekend.
From the first pages of the novel you realize that you are in the hands of a master storyteller. And Hilton does not disappoint after that: the entire book is crafted like a lovely gem carved and split out of crystal into beautiful shape. Although not much happens after the first forty pages, you are, by that point in the novel, pulled forward by the many mysteries that were quickly established in the prologue and the beginning. As some mysteries are resolved, more are uncovered, and ultimately – and satisfyingly – not all are neatly tied up by the end of the tale.
I don’t want to give anything away, but so many of the themes resonate strongly today – an outside world rife with war, environmental degradation, technological advancements, and moral confusion; and, in contrast, a fragile island – a haven of peace, health, and wisdom.