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Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home Hardcover – Bargain Price, May 18, 2010
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From the Back Cover
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.
Told in the sisters' alternating voices, Somewhere Inside is a timely, inspiring, and page-turning tale of survival set against the canvas of international politics that goes beyond the headlines to reveal the impact on lives engulfed by forces beyond their control. But it is also a window into the unique bond these two sisters have always shared, a bond that sustained them throughout the most horrifying ordeal of their lives.
Top Customer Reviews
I have a great deal of interest in anything that deals with North Korea. (NK) I followed this story closely when it unfolded. I also saw the Ling sisters give countless interviews about the events, during and after it occurred.
On the positive front: If you just look at this book on an emotional level as a tale of sisters bonding and rooting for Laura Ling to get out of the hellhole known as NK, you will love this book. It is well written and very detailed. Due to the frankness and the clear writing, you will feel yourself transported into the shoes of these sisters and feel as if you were going through these events yourself. Both sisters write well and as a result, there is a great amount of suspense and page-turning effect that makes you keep reading.
Both sisters are pretty honest. And so as a reader, you end up liking them and cheering for them. It is an emotional tale with a happy ending: when you either read about or see the video footage on the internet, seeing Laura and Euna getting off the plane and being reunited with their families will move you to tears. I mean if that doesn't get you misty eyed, there seriously is something wrong with your heart. I was so happy and joyed to see the women return and embrace their families. And the efforts of President Clinton, Vice-President Gore, President Obama, and everyone else should be commended for getting these two ladies home. They are daughters, wives, friends, loved ones, and in the case of Euna Lee, a mother. And so on a humanitarian heart level, this is a feel-good story and a survival tale.
On the negative front: Having said all this, it is important to look at these events from a world and moral perspective. In other words, use your mind, not just your heart when you read this book and assess the events. You cannot separate their experience and their actions. And so I encourage you to look at this book and the two journalists' actions on a global scale. When you do that, you will come away with a much less impressive view of these two sisters, particularly Laura Ling. And you will view the writing of this book on a much different level. Here are my observations.
1. Much of the tension in the narrative by Laura Ling is artificially created. She obviously wants sympathy from the readers. And to get it, she unnaturally tries to heighten her situation with drama and suspense. She does this with an amazing amount of detail in this book. Too amazing. The two sisters recall almost a day-by-day, sometimes an hour-by-hour account of what happened to them. They directly quote people on countless situations. This is just not believable. If you read Euna Lee's book, she rarely quotes but rather just summarizes what a person said. Plus in the front of her book, Euna Lee even says that the quoted dialogue is her best memory of what someone said and may not be accurate. Laura Ling does none of that in her book. I strongly doubt these were the actual words spoken by the various people. There is no way a person could remember that amount of details for five months short of recording constantly. In my experience if someone is being this exact about this much volume of detail, they are filling in the details and gaps of memory liberally, exaggerating the events and the atmosphere to suit their own agenda.
This kind of amplification of truth is even more apparent when describing the dialogue. Instead of writing this person "said" something, Laura Ling writes with exaggerated descriptions like, "I screamed breathlessly" or "he said gruffly." These are obvious and unnatural drama-creating devices. All of this is done to grab greater sympathy from the reader and paint themselves even more as a sympathetic victim. Many of these events of Laura are probably dramatized and not completely accurate. It made me look at her story with greater doubt.
2. The tone of both sisters has a quiet and underlying sense of arrogance about them. Lisa Ling talks many times about the amount of years she has in television and the number of contacts she has. Of course this may be factually true, but the manner in which she talks about herself and her stature put me off, as many other reviewers have commented on. Laura Ling is worse. She clearly sees herself as a survivor and victim of these events. But there is no humbleness nor any sense of responsibility of her own actions in this book. And when you see her in interviews on the internet about these events, her narcissism really comes through. This is not a grateful person at all. There is a lot of "but I want this..." type of attitude as a prisoner in NK. She is extremely preoccupied about telling what happened to herself and how hard it was on her. Yet she is oblivious to what other negative effects her actions have had on others.
I'm guessing she did some research on NK before going there for her assignment. And so she should know about the incredible food and medical shortage in that country. Most North Koreans who are not in prison do not receive the amount of food as well as medical care that she received. She took a dangerous assignment which means she should understand the amount of risk she was taking. And when the risk doesn't pan out, she should accept the logical consequences. Instead, she goes into this victimhood mode which was very unattractive. When you play with a rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth mad dog, you can and will get bitten. She acknowledges so little of her circumstance to her own actions. She blames the events virtually all on her guide who took them into NK. NK is a murderous, paranoid, child-like regime who are always looking for a reason to be offended. Why would you risk going across the river like that into NK, especially when she has all that video footage, contact information about people who work to help NK refugees?
There is also no sympathy by Laura Ling in looking beyond her own pain. I cannot imagine their level of shock when she was imprisoned. But what about realizing that she and Euna Lee are not the only ones imprisoned? There is an estimated 150,000-200,000 prisoners in North Korea, most if not all of them unjustly imprisoned.
She must know this. And she must know about the amount of physical labor, torture, malnutrition, starvation, beatings, unsanitary conditions, lack of medical care, brainwashing, and forced abortions that goes on regularly and systematically in NK prisons. Yet she received lavish meals compared to NK standards, a clean room, allowed to exercise, and received whatever medical treatment was available. I never read Laura Ling once reflect or sympathize about the other NK prisoners in worse situation than her.
The following article shows that Pastor Chun told them repeatedly not to stray into NK territory.
And that the journalists should know about the danger of even being near the border in the various examples in this article.
As this article discusses, they took an unnecessary risk. They may say that they were trying to shed light on the plight of NK refugees. That's a nice motive. But their actions were still reckless and not even necessary as this article shows.
They could have competently reported on NK escapees without crossing the Tumin river. They had various footages from interviews with defectors, they had footages from the area, town, woods, and river that the refugees would go through. They did not need to cross the river and into NK territory. They could have shot the same footage standing from the China side without crossing the river.
3. Laura Ling's actions also placed the refugees and the South Korean people who help them at risk. For those brave and blessed folks who want to escape NK and risk so much, they are now worse off because of Laura Ling's actions. Since the journalists were captured in an area where many people escape into a town in China, NK officials are now more aware of the refugee movement and have a greater insight in how to prevent refugees escaping. There is a silent war going on between NK officials and NK citizens who want to escape as well as those who risk so much to help them. Their actions made it harder for NK people to escape and to help those who want to escape.
4. Laura Ling gave too much details regarding her NK captors and guards. NK is a dictatorship built on fear and loyalty to the state/demi-god Kim Jong Il. Like the old Stalinist Soviet Union, kids are encouraged to spy on their parents and to be on the lookout for any disloyalty to the state. This means any signs of disloyalty, failure of job duties, or sympathy to prisoners can be grounds for you or your whole family to be imprisoned or killed without any legal process.
Knowingly or not, Laura Ling recounts in great detail, the "kindness" many of the female guards and captors showed her. Many of the female guards asked and talked to Laura Ling about what its like in America, learned Ling's yoga moves, talked about Ling's family and husband, laughed and cried with Ling, showed sympathy, slept and goofed off rather than guard Ling, and even was sad when Ling was freed. This can and will get these female guards into trouble for dereliction of duty and being kind to an enemy criminal once the NK officials read this in Laura Ling's book.
Ling also writes about how one of her main captors, Mr. Baek, was the one who suggested that the American envoy should be President Carter rather than President Clinton. This communication error by Mr. Baek can also get him into trouble. In addition right after Ling was caught, many of the soldiers were actually kind to them by allowing Laura Ling and Euna Lee to stay in the same room for a night, which allowed them to destroy a lot of contact information about the refugee contacts and erase footages. Now those guards will be introuble for incompetence. And so by disclosing this information about how "kind" these people were, Laura Ling will be punishing those who were kind to her.
Laura Ling says how she has disguised the identities and names of many of these people, but the NK will obviously be able to figure out who she was writing about. Without any regard for the safety of these guards and captors, Ling just blasts away about the details of their actions. Why go into this amount of detail? Why not leave that stuff out? Why even write a book at all about these events when it will endanger these poor souls? Just give some interviews and that's it.
5. Their reckless actions of being captured also cost our country greatly. Some conservatives like John Bolton and Dick Morris have said that sending President Clinton there amounts to negotiating with terrorists. They are wrong. They are using the wrong analogy and they make a poor argument. I wish they would not have made those public remarks, as they sound cold-blooded and without compassion.
It's true that Clinton went to NK on behalf of our government. This disguise of the mission as "a private humanitarian mission" is simply not true, especially from all the behind-the-scenes work that went on from what Lisa Ling writes. Plus look at this following article with the timeline that shows Clinton brought a message from President Obama and they discussed a "wide range of issues.":
What Obama did was not analogous to negotiating with terrorists because this is not a situation where NK kidnapped American citizens. Laura Ling and her team got into trouble by themselves, no matter how brief they were in NK.
But in order to get the two journalists out, I am sure it cost our country something. This is all speculation of course. But using common sense, I don't think a sociopathic, evil, ruthless dictator who sees himself as a kind of god like Kim Jong-Il would release these two American journalists for just some apology and a visit by his favorite president, Bill Clinton. There is no way that he would not exploit them for some kind of gain. I am sure President Obama paid some secret hefty price to release these two ladies. I don't know what that price could have been, but probably something along the lines of money (millions of dollars I am sure), medical or food aid, personal gifts of luxury for Kim Jong-Il, release of some NK prisoners, or a promise to overlook some military growth or missions by NK. Assuming the price was not something that placed innocent people in danger, I don't blame President Obama for having paid the price. It was the decent thing to do and I'm sure President Bush would have done the same. But the reckless actions of these three people cost the US a lot and made NK gain a lot in return. Any gain for NK is a loss for its imprisoned citizens and the good people of this world.
6. The fact that the Ling sisters are profitting off their recklessness is also something I don't like. Laura Ling places herself as a victim and a great survivor. But she placed herself in this siutation. Of course NK should not have arrested her, but NK is a psychotic and evil government; one of the worst in the world. But she put herself in that situation. If you take the risks, you should accept the consequences. I'm not saying we should have left the two journalists to rot and die in NK. But they bear some responsibility for getting themselves into that situation. Instead of doing that,
Laura Ling just focuses on the consequences of this decision on herself and her family. That's it. And she writes in a tearjerker manner in order to maximize the drama so that she can sell more books. Disgusting.
Just look up "Laura Ling" on the internet and you'll see that she went on a media blitz series of interviews; Oprah, CBS News, Anderson Cooper and Larry King of CNN, NPR, Current TV, the Today Show on NBC, MSNBC, and ABC News among other internet news sources. Watch these interviews and you'll see her personality and attitude which matches the tone of the the book. All these interviews are done to "promote her book." That is code for "trying to sell as many copies as possible." A sales pitch tour to maximize profits.
Yes, Laura Ling claims a portion of the profits will go to some organization to help NK refugees. But make no doubt: Laura Ling will still make millions of dollars from the writing of this book, capitalizing off their reckless experience. Who knows what tiny little profit will go towards the organization.
These are my problems with the book as well as the bigger, more global perspective surrounding these events. If you want to just see the book at the emotional level and bury yourself under the sand, it's a free country. But my hope is that people look at events with their mind and not just one's hearts. When you do, you'll see a rather unimpressive, self-preoccupied, and ready-to-celebrate-herself person who has not held herself accountable for her own actions in creating her own hell. In Euna Lee's book, she at least does so very clearly. Until Laura Ling owns up to her actions and have some empathy for what it cost others and our own country, she will never be free of these events. For her own sanity's sake, I hope she does. I doubt it.
At first, I thought Laura's story was courageous, and on some level, I still do. However, after reading "Escape from Camp 14" about Shin Dong-hyuk's birth and internment inside a North Korean total-control camp, it completely changed my perspective of this work.
I know that Laura Ling was trying to do some good when she started her investigative piece by uncovering what North Korean women endured in order to escape to freedom. Some women were trafficked to China; others ended up in prostitution. But, as other reviewers have mentioned, Laura could and should have stayed on the Chinese side of the river to get the same film shots to tell the same story. No one would have known the difference.
I have to agree with other reviewers, that Laura Ling, by even hinting that her captors showed compassion toward her, has put them in extraordinary danger. Even if she doesn't mention them directly by name, the government knows who was assigned to guard Laura. Anyone --whether they're a North Korean soldier, regular citizen or so-called "traitors" of the government, is in peril if they even show tolerance to that totalitarian regime's enemies. The United States and Americans top the list.
Laura also revealed some information about the underground activists who were helping North Koreans escape into South Korea. Even though she probably thought that she was being vague by revealing bits of information, it still helped the North Korean government figure out the activist's identities. And this put their lives in danger, since North Korea still sends agents to the South to assassinate individuals. It would be interesting to know if the South Korean human rights activist, whose name she confirmed in South Korea -- is still alive.
I believe this story should have been told differently. There should have been some compassion shown to these men and women whose lives are in danger. Laura's safe in America and enjoying book sales. The soldiers could end up in a camp at a moment's notice (like Shin's friend Park, who was a former elite in NK society.) Even though I like the sisters, and Laura, I still believe it was completely irresponsible for Laura to even hint at the soldiers and interpreter's preferential treatment of her.
I'd like to think it was naivete or ignorance on Laura's part about the North Korean legal system, but then again I don't know.