17 Mar / Somewhere Inside: One Sister’s Captivity in North Korea and the Other’s Fight to Bring Her Home by Laura Ling and Lisa Ling
Headlines in 2009 put Laura Ling and Euna Lee on screens and print around the world. ‘American journalists held captive in North Korea’ was certainly not a common occurrence. While filming footage for a documentary on North Korean defectors in March 2009, three colleagues from Current TV – the Al Gore co-founded television channel that turned off in 2013 – followed a local guide onto the frozen Tumen River that separates China and North Korea. The four were surprised by two armed North Korean soldiers. One producer escaped. The guide got away. Two were apprehended.
For five months, Laura Ling and Euna Lee were mostly kept apart, relentlessly interrogated, put on trial, sentenced to a dozen years in hard labor camps – but eventually, miraculously freed in August 2009 with the intervention of some of America’s most powerful leaders, including Bill Clinton. In June 2010, Laura would give birth to her first child, a daughter named Li Jefferson Clayton, for her sister Lisa and the president who landed in Pyongyang to take her and Lee home.
Presented in alternating chapters, the sisters go back and forth from opposite sides of the world, one trapped and struggling to survive, the other working frantically and furiously to get the other out. Laura writes of her imprisonment – of her injuries to her leg and head, her ongoing battle with ulcers which weakened her further, her inability to speak Korean, her anguish at her separation from her family, her fear over the constant uncertainty her fate, and even her unexpected moments of companionship and fleeting understanding with her assigned translator and guards.
Thousands of miles away, Lisa worked tirelessly to secure the safe release of her “Baby Girl” – her pet name for Laura since childhood. Lisa’s highly visible career as an on-screen journalist both worked in favor of and against the sisters. Lisa’s previous work-related entries into North Korea were publicly available online; she had already exposed the North Korean government’s failure of its citizens to the outside world. But Lisa also had high-power contacts, from the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to the U.S. Secretary of State, to former Vice-President Al Gore (of course), and even two past U.S. presidents.
Together with Lee’s The World Is Bigger Now, the dual memoirs provide a resonating, complete overview of what happened to two women who sought to give voice to the desperate survivors of the world’s most closed, dictatorial regime. Their U.S. citizenship may have made them both foolhardy and brave, yet their remarkably visible, internationally accessible experiences add to the mounting evidence that somehow, someday, very soon, the North Korean dynastic regime will topple and all fall down.