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Its popularity, though, has little to do with politics.

“The book is about the normal lives of the American people, so it does nothing to help me understand American policy of today,” said Song Chol, a 63-year-old professor who has spent much of his life studying “juche,” the North Korean philosophy of self-reliance that is quasi-religious dogma here.

“I read it a long time ago,” Song then growled, making clear that additional questions should be on juche.

Like Mitchell’s postwar southerners, North Koreans know about living through terrible times.

Over 1 million North Koreans are thought to have died in the Korean War, and hundreds of thousands more in the mid-1990s famine. Rights activists say more than 100,000 people are held in political prisons. Poverty is the norm.

The economy has improved for some over the past couple of years, and there are now a handful of rich North Koreans who can buy BMWs and flat-screen TVs.

But most people barely get by. They earn a few dollars a month, and count themselves lucky if they own a bicycle. They are tough people, who endure North Korea’s brutal winters in thin cotton overcoats, plow fields with wooden farm tools and make ends meet by selling dumplings or laundry detergent in street markets.

“The weak perish in `Gone With the Wind,’ said the former black marketeer. “That is something that North Koreans understand.”


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