The most welcome gift in the thoroughly compelling new book Somewhere Inside: One Sister’s Captivity in North Korea and the Other’s Fight to Bring Her Home (Harper Collins, May 18th) is not the revelation of how a certain Hollywood movie star figured in the college education of one of Laura Ling‘s female guards, that Laura and her producer Mitch Koss first visited Pyongyang in 2002 (!), or that Lisa at a certain point had a preliminary phone conversation with a member of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Rather, it is the character of Mr. Yee, Laura‘s main interrogator.
When he first appears (on page 65), Laura describes him thus: “His hair was well groomed, and he smelled of fresh soap. He looked to be in his late forties. He had a kindness in his eyes that contradicted his stern demeanor.”
The last sentence is key. Without going into further, spoiler details, let’s just say that Laura‘s initial instincts prove to be unerringly correct. Despite the clear imbalance of power and a U.S.–North Korea language divide (Mr. Yee must rely at all times on the services of a third-party translator), the relationship that evolves between Laura and her government assigned handler gradually edges into fatherly territory.
Yee tries to guide Ling through the process in a way that will not just satisfy his superiors but also maximize her chances at making her way back to freedom.
Placed narratively alongside the sisterly bond of Laura and Lisa, the hurlyburly of backroom politics and more, it’s easy to lose sight of the significance of Laura and Mr. Yee. But quite simply, through this book, Ling has put to paper one of the fullest portraits yet of a sympathetic North Korean man, of a type that those of us outside the boundaries of the Hermit Kingdom are normally only exposed to within the context of a refugee or defector tale.