Somewhere Inside: One Sister’s Captivity in North Korea and the Other’s Fight to Bring Her Home by Laura Ling and Lisa Ling
Published by William Morrow
From the publisher:
On March 17, 2009, Laura Ling and her colleague Euna Lee were working on a documentary about North Korean defectors who were fleeing the desperate conditions in their homeland. While filming on the Chinese–North Korean border, they were chased down by North Korean soldiers who violently apprehended them. Laura and Euna were charged with trespassing and “hostile acts,” and imprisoned by Kim Jong Il’s notoriously secretive Communist state. Kept totally apart, they endured months of interrogations and eventually a trial before North Korea’s highest court. They were the first Americans ever to be sentenced to twelve years of hard labor in a prison camp in North Korea.
When news of the arrest reached Laura’s sister, journalist Lisa Ling, she immediately began a campaign to get her sister released, one that led her from the State Department to the higher echelons of the media world and eventually to the White House.
Somewhere Inside reveals for the first time Laura’s gripping account of what really happened on the river, her treatment at the hands of North Korean guards, and the deprivations and rounds of harrowing interrogations she endured. She speaks movingly about the emotional toll inflicted on her by her incarceration, including the measures she took to protect her sources and her fears that she might never see her family again.
Lisa writes about her unrelenting efforts to secure Laura and Euna’s release. Offering insights into the vast media campaign spearheaded on the women’s behalf, Lisa also takes us deep into the drama involving people at the highest levels of government, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, Senator John Kerry, and Governor Bill Richardson—intense discussions that entailed strategically balancing the agendas and good intentions of the various players. She also describes her role in the back-and-forth between North Korea’s demands and the dramatic rescue by former President Bill Clinton.
Though they were thousands of miles apart while Laura was in captivity, the Ling sisters’ relationship became a way for the reclusive North Korean government to send messages to the United States government, which helped lead to Laura and Euna’s eventual release.
I’ve been on a bit of a North Korea kick lately – seriously guys, I am fascinated by this dark and terrifying place – and when a blogger reminded me about this book, I knew I had to read it. I am a huge fan of Lisa Ling – I think her journalism is smart and brave, and I truly admire her for the stories and truths she’s been able to bring to the public eye – and while I was less familiar with her sister Laura, I was still very interested in this harrowing story.
Somewhere Inside was everything I expected. What Laura Ling experienced was truly terrifying, and something that just shouldn’t happen in this world. She literally stepped a FOOT onto North Korean soil (which, she admits, was a huge mistake) and was immediately arrested and brought to a North Korean jail for months. What she experienced was atrocious and scary and almost unbelievable. But the most unbelievable part, to me, is that compared to actual prisoners in North Korea (non-famous ones), she was treated exceptionally well. She was fed regular meals, allowed to receive letters and a few packages from home, given an English translator so she could understand what was said to her, and guarded twenty-four hours a day by two women whose company she actually ended up enjoying. Her extraordinary ordeal was nothing close to paradise, but even she admits as she reflects upon her time there that it could have been much, much worse.
Lisa Ling’s story is almost as terrifying as her sister’s, just because there were so many unknowns in her situation. She is an incredibly famous person with a lot of political connections, but even she had extreme difficulty securing her sister’s safety – and came very close to not doing so at all. She had to walk on eggshells for this entire time in fear that she could do one wrong thing and they would execute her sister. She had to rally every single political figure she could think of (including President Barack Obama) on just the slightest chance that one of them would have enough pull with the North Korean government to get something accomplished. And she had to do all this while reassuring the rest of her family that somehow she would be able to get it done.
Like all of the other books I’ve read about North Korea, Somewhere Inside serves as a reminder of how horrific the regime in North Korea is. There are no words to describe how closed, strange, oppressive, terrifying this society truly is. If nothing else, this book will remind you of how lucky you are to live anywhere but there.
I would be remiss not to mention that, of course, this book is written exceptionally well. Two journalists coming together can obviously put together a coherent and well-written memoir, but these sisters really did an excellent job.