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Ling Sisters Recount Laura's Capture In North Korea

After journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were detained in North Korea in 2009, Laura's sister, fellow journalist Lisa Ling, worked tirelessly to bring them home. In a conversation with contributor Dave Davies, the sisters detail the incident that ended with former President Bill Clinton bringing them home.

43:23

Other segments from the episode on May 19, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 19, 2010: Interview with Laura Ling and Lisa Ling; Review of Dominique Browning's memoir "Slow Love."

Transcript

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Ling Sisters Recount Laura's Capture In North Korea

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

Last year, American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were working on a
documentary on the border between China and North Korea when they were taken
prisoner by North Korean soldiers.

They were held for five months at a time when North Korea's nuclear program was
heightening tensions with the United States. While Laura Ling was being held,
her sister Lisa was in the United States, working frantically to secure her
release.

The two sisters have a new book, which details Laura's brutal capture, as well
as her interrogation and trial in North Korea and Lisa's quick emersion into
the world of diplomacy with one of the most politically isolated countries on
Earth.

I spoke to them recently about their book, called "Somewhere Inside: One
Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home."

Laura Ling, Lisa Ling, welcome to FRESH AIR. Laura, let me start with you.
Describe the story that you were looking for when you traveled to the Chinese-
Korean border.

Ms. LAURA LING (Journalist; Co-author, "Somewhere Inside: One Sister's
Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home"): Well, Dave,
we were covering a story about North Korean defectors, people who are fleeing
the very desperate conditions in North Korea: mass starvation, very – a brutal
dictatorship. And they are crossing over into China.

Now, many of these defectors are women, and many of these women are trafficked
into really horrendous situations in neighboring China. They are forced into
marriages, they are lured into the prostitution industry, and because China
does not regard North Korean defectors as refugees, they will send them back
across the border to North Korea if they are caught.

And that means that these people face certain punishment. They will be sent to
North Korea's notorious labor camps and possibly face torture or worse. That's
the story that I was trying to bring to light for Current TV.

DAVIES: Now, you were there with Euna Lee, an editor and producer with you, and
Mitchell Koss, a producer and cameraman, right?

Ms. LAURA LING: That's right.

DAVIES: Now, did the Chinese know you were there as journalists?

Ms. LAURA LING: They didn't. We were traveling as tourists. As I said, this is
a story that the Chinese government - it's a sensitive story, and, you know,
oftentimes, the decision is made to either travel officially as journalists or
as tourists.

And traveling officially in China means that you are approved by the
government, and you have a media entity with you at all times. And it's a story
that we felt could be best told as tourists, as well as to protect the people
that we were interviewing, as well.

DAVIES: You know, one of the most interesting parts of the story comes in the
opening pages, and that involves the guide who was with you to take you to this
border region, and his behavior in getting you to the border and his conduct at
the border seemed pretty peculiar. Tell us what happened.

Ms. LAURA LING: Well, this is a guide that we had hired, a fixer, and foreign
journalists who are working overseas often hire what we call fixers, local
guides in the area who have worked with other media entities before, to help
them with the story.

And this was a man who we had hired who had previously seemed very cautious,
and he – there were some actions that, in retrospect, were suspicious. While we
were on the ice, we were filming. We went to the river to film the thoroughfare
where North Koreans are crossing into China. It was never our intention when we
were there that morning, to cross the river.

DAVIES: This is the Tumen River that separates Korea and China, right?

Ms. LAURA LING: That's correct. And, you know, our guide began making some low
hooting noises across the border. Now, previously, our guide had told us that
he had connections in North Korea. Our guide was involved in smuggling goods
himself. And so in my mind, I thought he was trying to make a connection with
some of the border guards that he knew.

He said that in the past, he had taken some media to actually converse with
some of these border guards on the other side, and he continued to walk closer
to the North Korean side of the river.

And he got to the other side, stepped foot on the soil and motioned for us to
follow him, which we did. We ended up on the other side of the border, and he
pointed out a village off in the distance where he said there were some safe
houses where defectors are kept until they're ready to be smuggled across the
border.

And really it was about that time. We were not on the soil for more than a
minute, before we knew we had to leave. And that's when we turned back and
walked back across the ice to the Chinese side.

DAVIES: So when you approached the Chinese-Korean border here, at the Tumen
River, you had no plan to actually cross into North Korea.

Ms. LAURA LING: Absolutely not.

DAVIES: In any case, you and two other journalists, now, having planned to
approach the North Korean border, find that you have crossed this frozen river,
set foot on North Korean soil for a minute or so, and then start back. But then
trouble comes when you encounter North Korean guards. What happened?

Ms. LAURA LING: I heard soldiers yelling from behind me. I turned around, and
there were two North Korean soldiers running across the ice toward us with
their rifles in their hands, pointed in the air.

And I just ran for my life. I ran as fast as I could. I reached the Chinese
side, and literally I could not feel my feet being able to run anymore after
being on the Chinese soil for a few moments, and I fell to the ground.

Euna, who was behind me, as she was approaching me, she stopped to help me, and
within seconds, the two North Korean soldiers were above us with their rifles
pointed at us. They then were determined to get us back across the ice to North
Korea.

The one above me was particularly fierce. He kicked me in the head, in the
shoulder a number of times while I was on the Chinese soil and then again on
the ice. And then at one point he raised his rifle, and I saw the butt of his
rifle headed for me.

I thought that that could be the end of my life, and he then proceeded to
strike my head with the butt of the rifle, and that's when I blacked out on the
ice.

DAVIES: So Laura Ling, you were, after this encounter with North Korean guards
at the border, were taken to North Korea. What kind of places were you taken
to, initially?

Ms. LAURA LING: Along the border, we were taken to several army posts. These
were very rudimentary areas, just kind of dirt clearings. And inside these army
posts, there were a series of bunk bed with, you know, very thin, stained
mattresses, no electricity whatsoever, very – I couldn't spot any real signs of
technology in the first few locations where we were taken.

Eventually, we were brought to a jail and placed in a cell, separately. The
cell was about five by six feet, metal door with no – if they – there were a
couple of slats on the doors where a guard could peer in and shine his
flashlight, but when those slats were closed, it was completely pitch black,
concrete floor, a wooden pallet with a couple of blankets to sleep on, very,
very dismal conditions.

DAVIES: Right, now to clarify, there were three of you that approached the
border. Mitch Koss, your producer and cameraman, managed to get away, get back
to China, but you and your editor and producer Euna Lee were captured. She was
fluent in Korean. So you were able, the two of you, I guess, to communicate.
What did you tell your captors?

Ms. LAURA LING: Well, when we were initially caught, Euna had told our captors
that we were students, we were working on a documentary, that we were film
students, and we were working on a piece about the border region and trade in
the region.

We knew that the subject we were covering, North Koreans fleeing these horrible
conditions in their country, was not going to be looked upon well by our
captors. And so we were hoping that while we were still on the border, we might
be able to convince them to send us back across the border to China. And that
became very clear, after about 24 hours, that that was not going to happen and
that we would have to tell them that we were journalists.

DAVIES: And you had materials on you, which could have put some of your people
- put some of your sources in jeopardy, right?

Ms. LAURA LING: Well, the materials that we had on us - we were very careful
when we filmed in China because we knew that this was a very sensitive story.
So I have pictures on a still camera, for example, that had the backs of the
heads of some of the interviewees who we spoke with in China. But even so, I
didn't want to take that risk of them seeing this material.

So for a brief moment, we were left with our belongings. I proceeded to delete
some of these pictures. Euna, on one of her videotapes, had an interview that I
had conducted with a defector. Again, it only showed the bottom half of his
body, and the locations in which we shot them were far from where these people
actually lived, but we didn't want to take any chances. And so we proceeded to
destroy this evidence, as well as eating some of the notes that I had in a
small notebook.

DAVIES: You ate notes?

Ms. LAURA LING: Yes, yeah.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Laura and Lisa Ling. Their new book is called
"Somewhere Inside." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guests are Laura and Lisa Ling. They've
written a new book about Laura's period of captivity as a journalist in North
Korea and her sister Lisa's efforts to free her. Their book is called
"Somewhere Inside."

Now, because one of the three of you who were on this project managed to get
back to China, they were able to get word to your families that you had been
captured in North Korea, which takes us to your end of the story, Lisa Ling.

When you heard that Laura had been detained in North Korea, who did you call?

Ms. LISA LING: Well, I got a call at 2:30 in the morning on March 17th from my
brother-in-law, Laura's husband, Ian(ph), and the first thing he said was,
Laura has been abducted by North Korean border guards.

And that just sent a complete shock through my system, because Laura - there
was never any intention to go anywhere near North Korea. Their assignment was
to go to China and to South Korea - so we were shocked. I knew the story that
they were covering, but I didn't think that they were going to really get close
to North Korea.

So Ian and I, immediately - I had Ian call our parents because we needed our
mother to make contact with Chinese authorities in China, and she's proficient
in Mandarin, and I just started calling everyone in the diplomatic world that I
knew.

One of my first calls was to Richard Holbrooke, who is the U.S. special
representative to Afghanistan and the most senior diplomat I know. And I wanted
to get word to Secretary of State Clinton that this was happening. And one of
the first calls that we also made was to the chairman of Current TV, Laura's
employer, Vice President Al Gore, because we felt like if this was going to
become the international incident that we thought it could, we needed Vice
President Gore to help us.

DAVIES: Now, because you're both journalists who have worked in national and
international stories, you had contacts in the government and in the media, and
of course, Laura's employer, as you said, was Current TV, who - one of its top
executive was Vice President Gore.

So one of the interesting parts of the story on your end, I thought, Lisa, was
that you talked to Vice President Gore, who was enormously helpful - gave you
contact information, said that he would do what he could. You also had heard
that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson had been on similar humanitarian
missions in North Korea, managed to reach out to him. He also contacted you.
But they had very different takes on how to approach this. What did they tell
you?

Ms. LISA LING: Well, from the get go, Vice President Gore and members from the
State Department who had been advising us had strongly suggested that we keep
things very, very quiet. And that was very understandable because we didn't
know exactly what happened to Laura and Euna.

So we were also fearing that the North Koreans might do something drastic. I
mean, this is a highly, highly unpredictable regime. The story that Laura and
Euna were covering was a very, very sensitive one. So before knowing anything,
we just thought we should maintain silence.

But I just started to reach out to as many contacts as I could, and one of the
people who is most closely associated with U.S.-North Korea relations, is
Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson. He, of all American - of any American -
has had the most successes in negotiating the releases of previous American
detainees in North Korea. So he was a natural, sort of, connection to make.

And he was incredibly helpful from the start, and told me that he would start
making contacts with the State Department and his contacts in North Korea. And
a couple of days into our conversations, he was actually approached by
President Obama and Secretary Clinton, and asked to actually help on our
behalf.

DAVIES: It struck me as interesting that they had very different views about
whether it would be helpful to get the Chinese government involved.

Ms. LISA LING: Yes. Vice President Gore wanted to try and get the Chinese
government to help us with this situation, because China is – has been
considered North Korea's biggest ally.

Governor Richardson, on the other hand, who had dealt with North Korea for
many, many years, was vehemently against involving China; because he said that
the North Koreans loathe having to deal with the six-party talks and having to
use China as a go-between in communication with the United States. And what the
North Koreans have been wanting for many years, is to have a direct line to the
United States.

The U.S. and North Korea have no diplomatic relationship. So they only
communicate through a third-party country in Sweden, or through the six-party
talks or from a humanitarian mission that they have in New York. But other than
that, communication is next to zero.

And according to Governor Richardson, the North Koreans have been trying to
ignite a kind of direct relationship with the United States, and they'd be
insulted if China were asked to get involved.

DAVIES: Meanwhile, Laura Ling, you were in Korea and were in these border
regions in very, very Spartan conditions. I mean, you said there's virtually no
signs of technology at all. But eventually, it becomes apparent to your captors
that they have an American journalist here, that this is important, and they
send you to the capital, Pyongyang. Tell us about that journey and how it
changed the way you were treated.

Ms. LAURA LING: Well, they – once we were transferred to Pyongyang, Euna and I
were separated. So from that moment on, I was by myself, and I was placed in a
compound in Pyongyang. The conditions were basic, but they were improved from
that jail along the border.

I had a – I was in a bedroom with a real bed, an adjoining bathroom and an area
where – there were two guards at all times who could look in on me. Of course,
this is North Korea, and there were frequent power outages and water outages,
but my treatment did change, and I was treated fairly.

One of the things that was quite damaging to my situation in the beginning was
the fact that my sister had been to North Korea before and had worked on a
documentary for National Geographic Television that was quite critical of the
North Korean regime.

So on top of everything, here, I was confronted with these very irate North
Korean authorities who knew about Lisa's work in North Korea, which only
compounded the situation.

DAVIES: Right, and you tried – you were hoping that they might not make that
connection. It seems that they did pretty quickly.

Ms. LAURA LING: I was. They asked for my family history, and I had to decide
what to write. They asked for all of my immediate relatives' names and
professions. But I knew that in Pyongyang they had access to technology and the
Internet, and a simple Internet search would reveal Lisa's profession.

So I wrote her name, and I said that she was a correspondent, but I didn't
write for whom. I didn't say that she worked for the Oprah Winfrey show or had
done work for National Geographic, CNN and elsewhere.

Ms. LISA LING: And that was something that was so – the complexities involved
were so surreal and just wild. I mean, when I first heard that Laura was being
held captive in North Korea, one of my first fears was that they would
associate her with me, because the documentary that I worked on for National
Geographic was incredibly critical.

And during Laura and Euna's captivity, we had a brand new president, in Barack
Obama, brand new secretary of state - high-profile secretary of state in
Hillary Clinton. The tensions on the Korean peninsula had been worsening and
becoming increasingly more severe, and some say that it was one of the low
points in U.S.-North Korea relations.

So all of these things were happening while my sister was somewhere inside the
most secretive country on Earth.

DAVIES: And, of course, Laura initially told her captors the lie, that she was
a college student working on a piece about trade between – along the border of
China and Korea - eventually has to own up to being a journalist, and now they
discover that in fact, she's part of a family that did a story in an
international broadcast outlet that was very critical of the regime. It's a
real jam to be in, wasn't it, Laura?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LAURA LING: Well, the phrasing that the interrogator - my interrogator -
used, the question he posed to me was, are you and your sister trying to bring
down the North Korean government? And I was faced with having to answer that
question.

DAVIES: Journalists Laura and Lisa Ling's new book is called "Somewhere
Inside." They'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Dave Davies, and
this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

Back with journalists Laura and Lisa Ling. Laura was captured by North Korean
soldiers last year while working on a documentary at the Chinese border and
held captive for five months. Back in the United States, her sister Lisa worked
to secure her release. They’ve written a new book about the experience called
“Somewhere Inside.”

So Laura, then there was a period of many, many weeks where you were held in
this holding facility in Pyongyang – the capital - and had daily interrogations
by this gentleman that you call Mr. Yee(ph), long and intense interrogations.
What did they want you to say?

Ms. LAURA LING: Well, they interrogated me about everything. They wanted to
know about my work history, all the past assignments that I've done, the
current piece that I was working on for Current TV. And - but I knew what they
were really getting at and that was that Mr. Yee wanted me to confess to having
motives of bringing down the North Korean regime. It was really less about the
fact that we had trespassed into North Korea than the hostile intentions of
trying to bring down the North Korean government. And so, I was faced with this
decision of making this confession.

Now, in my mind, I mean, I understood that working on a story about defectors,
in the eyes of the North Korean government they see that as a threat to their
government. And with my sister's involvement in the documentary and everything
else that was going on, I made the decision to make that confession that I did
have hostile intentions against the North Korean government. I knew that that's
what they wanted to hear and I hoped that if they felt that I was regretful
about my actions, that they would offer forgiveness and let me go, which is
what my interrogator had indicated could happen if I confessed.

DAVIES: So, you did sign a multipage confession, right, with fingerprints on
every page.

Ms. LAURA LING: Yeah.

DAVIES: And then you discover after that you are to go to trial, right?

Ms. LAURA LING: That’s right. I was given a trial date and a week before the
trial date I was assigned a defense attorney – if you can call him that. I
mean, I had already written a confession, a signed confession, and here I was
being offered a defense attorney who sat with me for an hour max, asking me
questions really unrelated to the case at hand. And really he was more of an
extension of the prosecution I saw than a defense attorney.

DAVIES: And what happened at the trial?

Ms. LAURA LING: Well, the trial was, the trial was a bit similar to the
investigation, asking similar questions about motives and me making a verbal
confession. I had tried to prepare myself for a lengthy sentence and - but
really nothing could prepare me for the verdict when I heard the words 12
years. And it was after the judge said 12 years, he said, no forgiveness, no
appeal. And that really cut into me because all along I had been hoping that
there might be the opportunity for an appeal, despite a long sentence. And I
was wondering if those words meant that the window of opportunity had closed
and my fate was sealed.

DAVIES: And when we say 12 years, we mean 12 years where?

Ms. LAURA LING: Twelve years in a hard labor camp in North Korea. These are the
notorious gulags that we hear about.

DAVIES: Yeah, what do you know about conditions at those camps?

Ms. LAURA LING: Really, I mean just the most wretched conditions. There are a
couple hundred thousand – there an estimated couple hundred thousand political
prisoners in these camps. Finding food is difficult and people are performing
back-breaking work, many of whom are tortured.

DAVIES: You know, I can imagine some people listening to the story that might
be thinking, well, this is certainly very unfortunate, but an American
journalist captured in North Korea has to know that sooner or later they're
going to get to come home, that they're going to be a pawn in some diplomatic
game but their not going to get sent to a labor camp. And, you know, and today,
it’s a year later and you certainly sound very composed. Tell us a little
though about your mental and emotional state at the time. What - you know, what
real fears you experienced and how it affected you.

Ms. LAURA LING: Well, I did try to maintain hope throughout most of that time.
And, as you said, you know, I didn’t know if they would in fact send us to a
camp. But North Korea is also one of the most unpredictable countries in the
world with a history of duplicity and everybody you speak to is very vehement
about their – speaks very vehemently about their anger toward the United
States. So, while I tried to remain hopefully, there were obviously those days
when I fell into a depression and worried that they might actually send us to a
camp.

DAVIES: You know, and Laura, I just have to think that this episode began with
such a savage physical beating that that had to have affected the way you
perceived it all.

Ms. LAURA LING: It did. I was so frightened after that incident, that while I
said that our treatment – my treatment was fair, I never knew if that could
change at any moment because of what had happened.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Lisa and Laura Ling. Their new book is called
“Somewhere Inside.” We’ll talk more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you’re just joining us, our guests are journalists Laura and Lisa
Ling. They’ve written an account of Laura’s captivity in North Korea and Lisa’s
efforts to secure her freedom. It’s called “Somewhere Inside.”

Well, Laura Ling, so you’re in Korea - North Korea going on four months. You’ve
been through interrogations. You’ve made a confession. You have been convicted
at trial and sentenced to 12 years hard labor. But you have some medical
problems and have been at a medical facility and have been allowed some
carefully controlled phone conversations with your relatives back in the United
States. And then at some point it seems your captors began to give you an idea
that there's a way out of this. How was this communicated to you?

Ms. LAURA LING: Right. Well, I knew that they were wanting an envoy to come to
our aid. It was just a matter of who. And...

DAVIES: An American envoy to come to North Korea, you mean? Yes. Yeah.

Ms. LAURA LING: That’s correct. And the way the North Koreans work is that they
are very indirect. I even asked them, just - I said, just tell me who you want
and I will try my best when I communicate with my sister. And they said, we
can't tell you who, that would be a violation of your human rights. And he was
very serious when he said that.

And so, trying to figure out who the right envoy was going to be was extremely
hard. It was like deciphering a puzzle. One day I tried to bring up the name of
the chairman of my company, Current TV, Vice President Al Gore again, and I
said, you know, Vice President Gore is a Nobel Peace Prize winner. He is one of
the most respected post-political figures in the world. He would be – I know
that he would be willing to come here.

But Vice President Gore was not sufficient for them because he was the chairman
of our company and he was just an extension, they saw, of Current TV. So at one
point, one of the officials said, well, why don’t we just cut off the vice and
go for president? And at that moment I just - I said to him, sir, with all due
respect, if you think that President Obama is going to get on a plane and come
here you’re mistaken and you might as well send me to a labor camp right now.
And he said, well, I'm not taking about the current president. What about past
presidents? And that’s when President Bill Clinton's name came up.

DAVIES: Right. And, of course, Jimmy Carter’s name was in the mix at some
point. I mean, you were wondering maybe he would work. And then, Lisa, of
course, it was you in your occasional and carefully managed phone conversations
with Laura from North Korea that this was communicated. What was it like on
your end trying to figure out what they wanted?

Ms. LISA LING: Well, I couldn’t believe that the names of some of the most
well-known political figures in America were even being spewed. I mean,
President Carter, President Clinton, even Vice President Gore. And I didn’t, I
couldn’t definitively determine whether these were Laura’s suggestions or
whether these were coming from the mouths of her captors. All I could do was
just trust. I mean, Laura and I are best friends. We know each other better
than we even know ourselves and so at a certain point I had to just trust that
what she was saying was what I had to try and execute.

So when she brought up the two former presidents, Carter and Clinton, even
though in my past experience in North Korea, I had heard that the North Koreans
harbor a high regard for President Clinton, I immediately discounted him
because he is married, after all, to the current Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton. And even though I had some concerns about Carter as a request, I just
thought, you know, let’s just go for it. Let’s just ask and see if he would
agree to go and he did.

DAVIES: And then Laura, on your end in North Korea, what was the reaction of
your captors when it sounded like your conversation with your sister was going
in the direction of getting Jimmy Carter to come to North Korea as an envoy?

Ms. LAURA LING: Right. Well, I mean, I was thrilled. I had requested President
Carter and Clinton and had received some indication that - from a letter that I
received from my family that President Carter had agreed to come, so I was
overjoyed. Well, that changed when I received a visit from one of the officials
who basically berated me for requesting President Carter, even though he was
the person who had been in the room indicating that former President Carter was
going to be a sufficient envoy. So it was hugely confusing and depressing for
me after knowing that President Carter had been approved to go, that this was
not the right person.

It was the first time that I actually got upset in front of one of the
officials. I had tried to be respectful the entire time I was there. And they
said, you have one more chance to convey to your family what needs to be done.
And at that point I realized that it had to be President Clinton or - and no
one else. And the official said to me, I think that President Clinton is your
best and last option. And when he said that, I knew what had to be done.

Ms. LISA LING: And Dave, this was, as you can imagine, this was tremendously
stressful for us on the outside because we're not talking about average Joe
American citizens. We're talking about former presidents of the United States.
And we're talking about Vice President Gore and Governor Richardson, all of
whom were being discussed or considered or we hoped that they would be
considered by the North Koreans. So, to say or to get former President Carter
to agree to go and then say, oh, wait a minute. I messed up. I mean, it was
just incredibly – it was a lot of pressure.

DAVIES: But at the end, President Clinton agreed to undertake the mission and
it was arranged. And he did go to Pyongyang. And one of the fascinating details
about this is the kind of jockeying for imagery that occurred between President
Clinton on behalf of the Americans and the North Koreans as this meeting in
Pyongyang occurred to bring Laura Ling home. And it was so fascinating. And I
remember this at the time, your description of President Clinton’s expression
as he landed at the airport.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: And in his dealings with the North Korean officials. Describe that.

Ms. LAURA LING: Well, really, it was a lack of expression. It was President
Clinton having to maintain a look of total stoicism, which...

Ms. LISA LING: Which is so unlike him. I mean, President Clinton - we're so
used to seeing this jovial character and when he descended off that plane, just
to see that completely deadpan expression on his face was so out of the
ordinary.

Ms. LAURA LING: Right. And he later said that he, in fact, had to practice that
and Hillary and Chelsea had to coach him so that he could maintain that look of
total stoicism. We also learned that there was a whole itinerary that the North
Koreans wanted Clinton and his team to attend, visits to various monuments, a
whole stadium filled with thousands of child acrobatic performers.

And they had to be very careful to, you know, walk that line and not attend any
of those events, so as not to seem like they were being chummy with the North
Koreans or the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. And I think they walked that
line very well. They stuck to the mission that they had at hand, which was to
bring us home. And...

Ms. LISA LING: No money was exchanged and no diplomacy was conducted. I mean,
it was truly a private humanitarian mission.

DAVIES: Right. And the North Koreans wanted a maximum of respect from the
Americans and the Americans wanted to make it as neutral an event as possible.
In the end, Clinton did end up having a very meaningful conversation with Kim
Jong Il, didn’t he?

Ms. LAURA LING: Well, he mentioned to me on the plane that he had made several
recommendations to Kim Jong Il, one that involved releasing some South Koreans
that were being held in North Korea, a couple of South Korean fishermen, as
well as a businessman. And they were, in fact, released shortly after our
release. And President Clinton also recommended that Kim Jong Il allow the
United States special envoy to North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, to travel to
Pyongyang and try to get back to the six-party talks, which the North Koreans
also allowed several months after our return.

DAVIES: You know, Laura, some weeks after your return from North Korea, you
were criticized in some reports from South Korea, a Reverend Lee Chan-Woo, who
was then living in China, said that police raided his home a few days after
your capture. And he said that the authorities in China cited scenes from
videos that you and your crew had taken when they interrogated him. In other
words, the notion being that while you were certainly pursuing the story and
acting in good faith, that you weren't careful enough, and in the end may have
harmed those that were trying to help refugees from North Korea. I didn’t see
if you or the company had responded to that since then. But what do you make of
those criticisms?

Ms. LAURA LING: Well, I certainly live with the thought of the consequences
that may have come from our actions. I will say that we were very careful in
how we filmed the interview subjects and where we met them. I - we also know
that the person who this man was working for actually spoke out about our
situation very early on. I think it was maybe the day after we were captured. I
think that that may have also tipped the Chinese authorities off as to the
story that we were working on because it happened so soon after our release.

DAVIES: This was a long and traumatic experience. Has it changed the way you
approach international reporting at all, made you any less willing to do it?

Ms. LAURA LING: Well, currently I am very pregnant and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Congratulations.

Ms. LAURA LING: Thank you. And expecting my first child, a baby girl, with my
husband Ian. And so, of course, it’s changed things a little bit in the short-
term. And I definitely was very, very career focused and had put off having a
family for quite a while. And so, right now I'm focusing on family. But I do
want to continue to raise awareness about this particular issue and others that
are being ignored in the world. It’ll just be a matter of when and in what
forum.

DAVIES: Well, Laura, Lisa Ling, we're glad you’re reunited, wish you the best
and thanks so much for speaking with us.

Ms. LAURA LING: Thank you so much.

Ms. LISA LING: Thank you, Dave.

DAVIES: Laura Ling was vice president of Current TV’s investigative series
“Vanguard” when she was captured. Lisa Ling is a correspondent for the “Oprah
Winfrey Show” and a contributor to ABC’s “Nightline” and the “National
Geographic Channel.” Their new book is called “Somewhere Inside.”
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Love Hit The Skids, 'Slow' Down

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Dominque Browning once held many high power editorial positions at influential
magazines, among them Newsweek, Esquire, Texas Monthly and House & Garden.
These days, she writes a monthly column for the Environmental Defense Fund’s
website and gardens at her house by the sea in Rhode Island. How Browning got
booted out of the lofty editor’s seat and into a ground level relationship with
Mother Nature is the subject of her new memoir “Slow Love.”

Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN: Dominque Browning was editor-in-chief of Conde Nast’s House &
Garden magazine for nearly 13 years. A fabulously high-powered job in a “Devil
Wears Prada” kind of world filled with business meetings in Paris and glitzy
benefit dinners in Manhattan, and deadlines and pressure. Then, in 2007, House
& Garden suddenly folded and Browning was given four days to pack up her Hermes
silk scarves and walk out into the world of the redundant. She was in her 50s,
divorced, with two almost-grown sons and a waffling cad of a lover who, after
seven years with Browning, still couldn't decide whether or not to get a
divorce or even move out of the apartment he still shared with his wife.

Browning's savings began to evaporate in the stock market, she couldn't sleep,
and due to nervous nocturnal nibbling, she packed on the pounds. Thanks to a
hyper-vigilant gynecologist, Browning also discovered, in time, that she had
kidney cancer.

Browning has just published a memoir about losing her job and shedding her old
identity. It's called “Slow Love” and after reading it, all I can think is:
sister, if this is what unemployment looks like, hand me that pink slip now.

Especially to the nearly 10 percent of Americans who are currently out of work,
Browning's memoir will read like a luscious fantasy of unemployment. Browning
recounts how she sold her beloved home outside New York City, moved permanently
into her newly renovated vacation house by the sea in Rhode Island, and threw
herself into gardening, Bible reading and mastering the Goldberg Variations on
her piano.

The subtitle of Browning's memoir underscores its privileged class perspective.
It reads: “How I Lost My Job, Put On My Pajamas and Found Happiness.” The
pajamas, by the way, are from Brooks Brothers men's department, which Browning,
a connoisseur, insists make the best pajamas for grown women. But, in fairness,
Browning from the get-go acknowledges that hers is not a story of financial
ruin but rather psychological collapse. “Slow Love” doesn't claim to be a
representative tale of unemployment, rather, it reads more like a female
romance about self-resilience, much like Elizabeth Gilbert's juggernaut, “Eat,
Pray, Love.”

Taken on its own terms, “Slow Love” is a compelling and often funny addition to
that burgeoning literary subset of autobiography: namely, women's memoirs about
being knocked down in midlife and, painfully, arthritically, figuring out a way
to get up again.

The most wince-making sections of “Slow Love” are devoted to Browning's long
love affair with the legally separated but married man she calls Stroller,
because he strolls away at crucial moments. Browning astutely diagnoses but
remains enthrall to Stroller's weirdly intoxicating potion of loving
unavailability. One of their most grotesque exchanges occurs when they're
eating lunch out in New York, a few days after September 11th, and Stroller
announces that he's disinviting Browning to his country house and inviting his
wife instead because he's worried about another terrorist attack. Browning, who
feels as though she's been banished from paradise, describes her response as
the derangement of a howling Eve.

Yet this dance of romantic ambivalence continues until the spell is weakened by
Browning's cancer and the months that follow — months of unhurried, focused
attention to family and friends, her own body and nature. Browning calls this
shift in focus “Slow Love,” which she says is about knowing what you've got
before it's gone.

What she ultimately learns has much more to do with recognizing that everything
— work, love — is all too temporary. Towards the end of her nuanced memoir, she
drives home this epiphany by describing the bizarre existence of the purple sea
snail, which floats on the ocean on a raft of mucus. Browning writes
beautifully about nature and its lessons, so I'll let her take it from here.

Difficult to imagine, Browning says, such a fragile hold on life, in a home
anchored by no more than the thread of a baby's spittle. Perhaps we only think
we have a surer grip. We float our hopes on bubbles of optimism and
opportunity, and the lines that keep us alive are easily snipped.

DAVIES: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed “Slow Love” by Dominque Browning.

You can join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair. And you
can download podcasts of the show at freshair.npr.org.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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