Shopping for Books in Albania

Wherever I go, I look at the books. Doesn’t matter if I can read them, although books in English have spread across the globe just like English itself has. I’m always interested to see what books look like, whether they are originals in the local language, world classics translated into the local language, or books in English imported from overseas.

See below for photos of two very different types of book shopping experience.

Books I Bought

I’m trying to limit my book purchases for a variety of reasons, but I went to Albania with the intention of bringing back at least one book with me: a translation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in Albanian to add to my collection of translations of Harry Potter books. In this, I succeeded. I also came home with a copy of The Little Prince in Albanian to add to my collection of translations of this French classic.

I bought both of these at the large, centrally located branch of Adrion, which I’d read about online before leaving China.

But before I reached the bookstore, I unexpectedly encountered a guy selling books at the edge of a public park.

Thanks to this book stall, I came away with a second-hand Albanian-English dictionary from 1981.
They also had bilingual French, Italian, and German dictionaries, as shown.
Half the reason I like this book is that the title looks like something a kid wrote after learning the letters but before learning to spell: “Look! I writed you a story! FJALORSHQIPANGLISHT”
But it’s actually not gibberish! I’ll bet you can figure out what “SHQIP” means from the context.

Books Siqi Bought

On Day 3, I took Siqi to the park where the books were being sold. He saw “1984” and picked up the book to see what language it was in (since you can’t tell from the title). It was in Albanian, so he decided to buy it.

The bookseller, not the same guy I bought from, struck up a conversation in English, the gist of which was that Albanians are the original Europeans and their language is the original European language and their culture is the original European culture, or something like that. Britannica says “The Albanians are descended from the Illyrians, an ancient Indo-European people who lived in central Europe and migrated south by the beginning of the Iron Age.” I guess it’s good to know your roots.

He managed to sell Siqi another Orwell title, and then gave him a third book, in English, for free.

1984 (in Albanian) and Animal Farm (in Albanian) by George Orwell and Broken April, a novel by Albanian author Ismail Kadare.

According to Wikipedia: “[Broken April] concerns the centuries-old tradition of hospitality, blood feuds, and revenge killing in the highlands of north Albania in the 1930s. It was translated into English by John Hodgson for New Amsterdam Books in 1990.”

Actually, Wikipedia has a lot to say about Ismail Kadare. I feel like I should have recognized the name, but I don’t think I did… he’s been internationally famous since 1970 and has published dozens of works: novels, plays, screenplays, poetry, essays, and stories, many of them subtly opposing the oppressive Albanian Communist regime (which only ended in 1992).

I’m glad the voluble bookseller made sure we went away knowing a little more about his people, his country, and his country’s award-winning novelist. (Mission accomplished, my dude.)

Books I Did Not Buy in the Park

These are books I saw at the same stall as my dictionary:

This sign says “used books”. 300 Albanian lek is currently equivalent to about US$3.
I spy the Statue of Liberty…
There she is again! And beside her, another person holding something up triumphantly! (Nice cape.)
I was tempted to buy the Norton Anthology of American Literature… I figured the manual on bookselling was probably out of date.
I spy Gulliver’s Travels! And a book about Athena.
Rich Dad Poor Dad. 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. Moonwalking with Einstein. (Einstein is spelled Aynshtajnin.)
Danielle Steel, Nicholas Sparks, Nora Roberts, The Alchemist (sensibly spelled with a K).
Shakespeare, Northanger Abbey, something by Stendahl… and a book about Sarah Palin.
Camus, Nora Roberts, Kafka, “Gustav Flober” (Gustave Flaubert), three books by Ismail Kadare, and a book on Dostoevsky.
Handmaid’s Tale, Murakami, more Flober, Evgjeni Grande (Eugenie Grandet), Balzac, more Kafka.
Hugo, Sartre, Camus, Dostoevsky.
Don Quixote, Hugo, Kafka, Freud.
Pushkin, Benjamin Franklin, Siddhartha, Gilgamesh, and Rousseau’s Social Contract.
Aristotle, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Oscar Wilde, and a French/Albanian dictionary.

These are books I saw in the corner where Siqi bought his books:

Crazy Rich Asians, a book about Singapore by Kevin Kwan!
Carl Darvin: Dhe Udhetimi Me Anije Bigell = Charles Darwin: The Voyage of the Beagle.
Essential English for Foreign Students.
The Big Book of Cakes & Cookies plus a ton of stuff I completely don’t recognize.
A History of Albanian Literature… in English.
The Idiot, The Gulag Archipelago, The Iliad.
Hemingway. Tolstoy.
There are Siqi’s Orwell books! Right next to Pollyanna, lol.
Pippi Longstocking.
Medical textbooks in English, Italian, and Albanian.
The Quran, Nietzsche, and Atlas Shrugged (vol 2 only).

Books I Did Not Buy in the Shop

So many books, so little time…
Books about the Balkans.
Books about Albania.
Books by Albanians… especially Ismail Kadare.
A series published by Princeton University Press!!!
Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (in French).
Penguin Modern Classics, including books by Orwell and Kafka.
It’s not all classics… here’s George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (Song of Ice and Fire) series.
Okay but there are a LOT of classics… I see MacMillan’s Collector’s Library, Penguin, and Alma here.
“Human Science” maybe corresponds to “Self-Improvement”… I see The Power of Habit.
Lots of shelves. Of books. Bookshelves everywhere!
Russian classics!
Jane Austen!
Dictionaries and reference books.
Books for children and teens.
Harry Potter books!
I spy Eragon.
Book bundles for kids. I spy The Little Prince. (And an adaptation of a Stephen Hawking book???)
Book bundles for grown-ups. I spy Atomic Habits.
Moony Witcher is an Italian writer; these are Albanian translations. I spy Michael Ende (author of The Neverending Story).
I bet you can tell I love books… Being around so many books is like being pleasantly intoxicated. 🙂