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November 5, 2013

North Korean tablet has 'Gone With the Wind'

There's almost no Internet access in North Korea, but that hasn't stopped the isolated nation from producing its version of an iPad, called the Samjiyon.

Ruediger Frank, a professor of East Asian economy and society at the University of Vienna and head of its Department of East Asian Studies, took a deep look at the tablet after he bought one on a recent trip to the closed-off nation.

Writing for the website 38North.org, which analyzes North Korean issues, Frank was pleasantly surprised by his purchase, despite its inability to use the Internet. It runs a custom version of Android, has 14 games including Angry Birds, and comes pre-loaded with 488 dictionaries, reference works and e-books. Among the e-books is Margaret Mitchell's 1936 classic, "Gone With the Wind."

Yes, you read that right, "Gone With the Wind."

The e-book comes with an introduction that explains that the book is "particularly useful for understanding how modern capitalism spread to all of the United States," because it shows how the exploitation of black slaves was the economic foundation of the American colonies and describes the Civil War as "a struggle between the bourgeoisie of the North and the landowners of the South."

It might seem an anachronistic inclusion to the tablet, but "Gone With the Wind" is actually one of the best-known pieces of American literature in North Korea, according to a report from Tim Sullivan at the Associated Press. The book was translated by the government in the mid-1990s, just before the collapse of Soviet Union support to North Korea resulted in widespread famine. The motivations behind its importation remain unclear; it may have been meant as a peace offering or as an insult to the United States. But regardless of why it was translated, once it was available it became incredibly popular — perhaps because the Civil War narrative and survival story rings true with the general population for whom life is a near-constant struggle with poverty and starvation.

This isn't the first time "Gone With the Wind" has shown up in unexpected places because of its cult status in North Korea. Although the movie remains forbidden to the general public, it is sometimes used in English-language training material for elite government officials. And North Korean officials meeting with U.S. envoys have been known to quote from the novel during negotiations.

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