Journo sisters spill all

SOMEWHERE INSIDE: One Sister’s Captivity in North Korea and the Other’s Fight to Bring Her Home

By Laura Ling and Lisa Ling (New York: William Morrow, 2010, 322 pp., $26.99, hardcover)

At its heart, “Somewhere Inside: One Sister’s Captivity in North Korea and the Other’s Fight to Bring Her Home,” centers on relationships, namely that of Laura Ling and Lisa Ling. The sisters forged a bond at an early age; finding solace in one another amidst their parents’ tumultuous fights in their suburban home outside of Sacramento.

As the overprotective older sister, Lisa insists on loaning Laura, “Baby Girl,” a warmer winter coat just prior to her departure for China on assignment with Al Gore’s Current TV.

Lisa is a veteran reporter herself, having served as an “Oprah Winfrey Show” correspondent, co-host of ABC’s “The View,” contributor to ABC’s “Nightline” and the National Geographic channel; upon learning that Laura and her colleague Euna Lee have been apprehended by North Korean soldiers while reporting on defectors to China, she uses her media savvy and connections to orchestrate their release.

This leads Lisa and her family members to ultimately appear on such news programs as CNN’s “Larry King Live” and the “Today” show to make their appeal.

Despite the family’s efforts to prevent Kim Jong Il’s officials from trying to use the women as a “political bargaining tool,” the North Korean officials successfully manipulate monitored conversations and correspondence between the Ling sisters to convey their demand: that the United States should send former President Bill Clinton to the isolationist Communist country. The expectation is complicated by its timing, coming just months after North Korea had launched a long-range missile, promptly alarming the global community.

The women ultimately are released after four-and-a-half months, following the efforts of such individuals as President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, and of course, Clinton, who personally traveled to North Korea to secure the women’s release.

From Lisa’s secretive conversation with a former special operations member who offered, for five to fifteen hundred dollars per day, to locate Laura, to her depiction of “this never happened” types of conversations with Richardson, who had previously negotiated the release of Americans from North Korea, at times, the situations described seem more in line with a drama than a work of non-fiction.

Whereas Lisa’s extensive network of contacts clearly helped to aid in the process of securing the women’s release (and thankfully so) this overt media saviness ever so slightly taints the reader’s experience. As she did during the women’s detainment, the elder Ling continues to strategically refer to her sister and Lee as “the girls.” Unfortunately, one can’t help but be aware of the authors’ messaging efforts throughout their depiction of their ordeal.

Most readers are likely to pick up the title, having at least some basic background knowledge of the Lings’ story, and perhaps, the desire to gain an inside scoop. And ultimately, in sharing snippets of conversations with Laura’s interrogator or her husband Iain Clayton, their letters, and bits and pieces of their own personal lives, Laura Ling and Lisa Ling deliver.

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