The e-book revolution hits North Korea

Perhaps it's still too soon to see iPads in Pyongyang, but North Koreans are reported to be enjoying "a wealth" of e-books.

Beyond propaganda: North Koreans are reported to be able to access a range of e-books that are not limited to government propaganda.

It's the miracle we all want to believe in – that our information age will allow us to put books, in digital or other format, into the hands of readers all over the globe. And now it seems that even North Koreans – living in one of the world's most cloistered countries – are reaping the benefits of that promise.

According to the Korea Times, South Korean activist Kim Seong-min has reported that Electronic Library Mirae (Future) 2.0, a North Korean e-book computer program, is allowing readers in North Korea to choose among a "wealth" of e-book titles.

Kim, a North Korean defector and founder of Free North Korea Radio, says that North Koreans are digging into e-books that range well beyond government propaganda. On the fiction side, Kim told the Korea Times that translations of Western classics such as Shakespeare's plays, "The Iliad," "Don Quixote," "Jane Eyre," "Les Misérables," and "Gone With The Wind" are among available titles. Nonfiction offerings mentioned by Kim include "political theories and history" and also "a variety of literature, song collections, and educational content such as dictionaries and books of facts."

According to Kim, Mirae 2.0 provides access to the electronic versions of "about 1,500 books and 350,000 kinds of other documents."

Kim says that the rise of e-books in North Korea has been rapid. Kim told Yonhap News (as quoted in the Korea Times) that "North Korea will have less complications surrounding copyright issues compared to the South, and with the government pushing the project directly, the country seems to have acquired a wealth of e-book content over a relatively short period of time."

Perhaps the flow of e-book titles will work in two directions. Not only will books from the outside world be making their way into North Korea, but North Korean authors may now have a chance to reach readers beyond their country's borders. According to Kim, Mirae 2.0 offers titles of "some contemporary North Korean work that hasn't been previously introduced to the South."

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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