Demand Grows in North Korea For US Novels, Movies as Summit Nears

Gone With The Wind, with its themes of civil war and hardship, is a particular favorite, one source says.

A North Korean girl looks up from a book as she walks through a neighborhood in Pyongyang in a file photo.

Interest in U.S. novels and movies is growing in North Korea following the announcement that U.S.-North Korea summit talks may be held next month in Singapore, sources in the nuclear-armed, one-party state say.

Officially banned, and with harsh punishments threatened for their sale or possession, they can now easily be found at bookstalls in public markets, a source in South Pyongan province’s Pyongsong city told RFA’s Korean Service.

“With people now becoming more interested in the United States, more people are looking for U.S. novels and movies,” RFA's source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Booksellers in Pyongsong markets are asking college students to bring them U.S. novels or movies on USB memory cards," the source said, adding, “College students also translate lines from the movies and put in subtitles.”

The novel now most in demand is the American classic Gone With The Wind, RFA’s source said.

“The background to the story is somewhat similar to our own country’s history and situation, and the life of the lead female character, Scarlett O’Hara, is as tough at one point as the lives of many North Korean women.”

“So many people sympathize with the novel,” he said. “The movie based on the novel can be found here on USB memory cards, and these are spreading rapidly.”

Hidden in the stands

American novels and movies are often hidden under book stands in the markets, with general works on technology and other books displayed more prominently above them, the source said.

“Daily rental fees for North Korean novels and movies is about 1,000 North Korean won [U.S. $0.13 approx.], but the cost to rent U.S. novels and movies is five times as much, and though these are much more expensive, there is an increasing demand,” he said.

Also speaking to RFA, another source in South Pyongan said that North Korea in the past has published famous international novels, “but because these are not kept in general public libraries, ordinary citizens have not been able to read them.”

During the great famine of the 1990s, many college professors and scientists sold the books they kept at home to earn money, and foreign novels and works on technology began to appear more often in the stalls, he said.

“Nowadays, USB memory cards are widely used in North Korea, so if there is a demand for certain novels or movies, these can easily be found. Many young adults also watch untranslated American movies using memory cards on their cell phone.”

Foreign novels and movies are still banned, though, and special units of the North Korean police still crack down on their possession and sale, the source said.

“But compared to the restrictions on South Korean novels and movies, the controls on U.S. novels and movies are somewhat loose,” he said.

Reported by Hyemin Son for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Richard Finney.