Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover … or do?

“All beautiful books are the same. All ugly books are ugly in their own way.”

Leo Tolstoy, probably.

Ah, technology. One of the many things it’s transformed is people’s access to books and how they read them. Any book is one click away, if you have access to Amazon. That’s a big if.

Kosovo is unique in many ways, and for one, most major online retailers don’t ship here. Even when they do (I’m looking at you 🌷 Asos 🌷), shipping takes forever and import taxes cost an arm and a leg. I’ve learned to accept that I cannot always rely on technology to fix my issues here, because Narnia Kosovo still isn’t on the map for many ‘global’ brands.

One of the most recent books I’ve been gushing over is Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (I’ll talk about the book itself some other time!). Specifically, I am reading the 1980s Albanian translation of Anna Karenina by Vedat Kokona, under a publishing house that does not exist anymore.

  • The upside: The translation is absolutely beautiful. I love Albanian. So much so, I (very) briefly considered writing this blog in Albanian. The translation is incredibly well written and the copy I have holds sentimental value, as it belonged to my aunt, Besa, who read it when she was a teenager.

  • The downside: This version of the book came in two installments, and I only had the first one. For the life of me, I could not find Volume II. Since the publishing house doesn’t exist anymore, I could not order a new copy. My best – and only – bet of finding it, was finding it second hand.
My aunt Besa’s copy of Anna Karenina (Volume I) in Albanian, published in 1980 by Rilindja

So, how do you find a book that’s no longer in print? First off, yes, I could just go out and buy a new copy of Anna Karenina in Albanian. Unfortunately, I enjoyed this particular 1980s translation so very much, I refused to even consider anything else. And, yes, I also wanted a matching set.

I tried a couple of routes. I tried book stores and street vendors and – no 1980s Volume II in sight (One of the street vendors told me he used to work for this publishing house back in the day!). I tried relatives and friends and found all possible versions of Anna Karenina in Albanian – except the one I needed. The one to complete my set and end my woes.

My uncle Genc’s copy of Anna Karenina (Volume II) in Albanian, published in 1963 by Rilindja (close, but not quite)

My last hope was our National Library, an iconic structure that’s rubbed many a news publication the wrong way (It’s frequently listed as one of the uglier constructions in our world. I humbly disagree and find it very charming!). Excitedly, I made my way there to find that it was closed, until further notice. Thanks COVID.

So, remember how I said I refused to consider any other version of the book? Well desperate people do desperate things … and boy, was I desperate at this point. I went back to a book store and got a hold of a newer copy of Ana Karenina, a 2000s edition, translated by the same guy, under a newly established publishing house. This really was the closest I could get.

Did it match my Volume I in writing style? Absolutely. It was the same translator.

Did it match my Volume I in aesthetics? No. It was fugly.

My new copy of Anna Karenina in Albanian, published in 2000 by Kokona Publishing (same translator). Ultra fugly.

I wound up buying the world’s ugliest book (or at the very least, the world’s ugliest copy of Anna Karenina). The cover is garish and glossy and I’m not going to proudly display it on a #shelfie anytime soon. But, I could finally continue reading about Ana and her Alexeis, even if it really didn’t feel the same.

So, how does this sob story end? Six hours after I buy the world’s ugliest book, I get a text from Dina: She found it. She did the impossible. She found my matching Volume II. I couldn’t believe my eyes but she had pulled it off! I finally had my completed set, and an extra ugly one to spare. She found Volume II at that same vendor on the street, who told me that he used to work for the publishing house back in the day. He had searched around and found it.

I guess the lesson here is that you don’t always need technology to solve your problems. Sometimes, all you really need is great friends. Community trumps technology in my book (pun intended), and while the latter can facilitate a sense of community, it can never truly replace it. So many people reached out to help on my quest; a real testament to the kindness of humanity.

My complete (and overflowing) collection of Anna Kareninas: Volumes I, II and ugly.

Do you also judge a book by its cover? I clearly do. What’s the ugliest book you’ve come across? Did you end up buying it?

Thank you for reading!

Rrita


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