Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Interview with Laura Ling

While reporting on desperate women defecting from North Korea at the Chinese border, Laura Ling and a colleague were captured by soldiers and interrogated, then imprisoned for five months.  Only with the help of Laura's sister Lisa, whose contacts on Capitol Hill aided her, was their release negotiated.  Having been sentenced to 12 years in a labor camp for "attempting to overthrow the government of North Korea," Laura was exhausted and grateful, and their memoir SOMEWHERE INSIDE, narrated by them, is a rare treat in audio non-fiction, showing how a bond between sisters develops and endures.

AUDIOBOOKS TODAY) What was the worst thing--and the most surprising thing--about your imprisonment and interrogation, both physically and psychologically?

LAURA LING)  One of the worst things about my imprisonment was the uncertainly.  I would approach each day not knowing what would happen from one moment to the next, or if I would survive that day. I constantly worried about my family who was also dealing with the uncertain nature of the situation.  I was much more concerned about the effect my captivity was having on them than on myself.  My psychological state definitely had an impact on my physical state—I experienced several ulcer flare-ups because of the stress and anxiety.  Despite how unbearable things were mentally and physically, my survival instincts did kick in.  I practiced meditation and other mental exercises, which helped tremendously.

AT) Why do you think the North Korean government is so paranoid about their image with the rest of the world? It must be obvious to them that what they're doing, even today, is garnering nothing positive. Are they desperate or insane?

LL) Whatever image the North Korean regime portrays towards the world, perhaps the most important image they project is the one towards the North Korean citizenry. By controlling the media, and brainwashing its people, the government has been able to present an ideal image and maintain its grip on power.

AT) I once saw a documentary by a travel writer inside the border talking to guards and citizens who seemed all smiles, so clean and polite. Of course he couldn't go anywhere he wanted. The so-called "beloved leader" lived in luxury while the people were asked to worship him, although many were invisibly starving. What happens to the women like those you documented who complain, and can governments do anything to give people silenced a voice?

LL) People inside North Korea who complain about the government can be sent to a labor camp where they might face torture or even execution.  Even family members of someone who disparages the government are at risk of being imprisoned.  Outside governments can always do more to support and safeguard defectors who have fled North Korea. There are members of the U.S. Congress who have been active in introducing legislation to help the NK human rights effort, defectors and orphans.  And there are a number of great organizations out there.  One of them is Link:

AT) Your sister has championed many causes too, beyond your own release. What were you most proud about of her then, and how has your bond sustained you into the present?

LL) I’ve always been my sister’s biggest fan. I’ve admired her passion for storytelling and for wanting to expand people’s minds about what’s happening in the world.  I’m particularly proud of the work she has done to raise awareness about women's issues around the globe.  Lisa and I share an incredibly bond.  I literally wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for her.  As a result of what happened to me in North Korea, we have become even closer as sisters. We value the time we have together even more.

AT) What was your experience like in recording the audiobook version of the book? Your voices sound similar.

LL) Recording the audiobook version was a very personal and emotional experience. I could feel my heart palpitating at times when I was recounting scenes of intense fear, pain or anticipation!  Just as writing the book was extremely cathartic, recording the audiobook provided a good measure of healing.  Lisa and I actually recorded the audiobook in separate sessions, so we weren’t physically together during the tapings.  Our voices do sound similar...our parents get us mixed up on the telephone all the time...but the differences speak to our personalities and even our individual writing styles.

AT) Have you always been a workaholic, even more than Lisa?

LL) Lisa and I have always been workaholics.  I think she works more than I do, but she would probably say the opposite.  Since my return home, I’ve focused more on my family and my personal life.  While I’m still passionate about working, I now consider my most important job raising my 8-month-old daughter. 

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