In T. Davis Bunn’s novel, Florian’s Gate, American Jeffrey Sinclair is bored in his job. His mysterious uncle, Alexander Kantor, has a glowing reputation in the antiques business in London. Alexander never reveals where his exquisite pieces come from, but their high quality always fetches good prices and willing buyers. When Alexander invites Jeffrey to become his assistant, Jeffrey jumps at the chance, quickly learning both the details and the instincts needed.
Jeffrey hires a part-time helper who rapidly becomes a valuable assistant, Katya. Jeffrey falls head over heels for her, but she is guarded around him. He senses her past contains pain, but she’s not willing to reveal it to him yet. Plus she is a believer, but he has turned his back on God after a family tragedy.
When Alexander asks Jeffrey to take a trip to Poland, Jeffrey is thrilled to be trusted enough to be asked. There he meets Alexander’s brother, Gregor, and begins to learn some of Alexander’s sources. Poland is still reeling from being trampled underfoot by WWII and then Soviet occupation. At first Jeffrey thinks everyone looks sad and depressed, understandably. But he soon finds an underlying resilience in their character. Alexander, Jeffrey, and Gregor visit some of the most unlikely places to find some of the poorest people with great treasures they’ve been holding on to for years but are now in desperate enough straits to sell.
Surprisingly, Alexander comes face to face with his own painful past, which Jeffrey learns of for the first time. When Alexander is incapacitated for while, Katya comes to assist and translate. What Jeffrey learns through all these experiences helps him understand his uncle and Katya and helps him come to grips with his own past as well.
A few quotes from the book:
Dissatisfaction tends to lift one’s eyes toward the horizon. Those who are comfortable rarely make the effort to search out something better. They may yearn for more, but they do not often receive it. They are too afraid of losing what they already have, you see, to take the risk. And there is always risk involved, Jeffrey. Always. Every major venture contains a moment when you must step off the cliff and stretch your wings toward the sky.
Even in the darkest of hours, people have a choice. They can turn toward self, or they can turn toward God. They can turn toward hate, or they can turn toward forgiveness and love.
The world says there is no greater tribute you can grant yourself than to say, I can make it on my own. My perspective says there is no greater deception. The power within our own will and our own body and our own confined little world is comfortable, and it is tempting. It gives us a wonderful sensation of self-importance. Thus most of us will try to live outside of God until our own strength is not enough. Yet the way of the cross is the way of inadequacy. We need what we do not have, and therefore we seek what is beyond both us and this world.
There are an infinite number of lessons to be drawn from the cross, my boy….All human hope lies at the foot of the cross. In the two thousand years since it first rose in a dark and gloomy sky, it has lost none of its luster, none of its power, none of its divine promise.
Normally Bunn’s stories involve quick-moving plots and page-turning intrigue. There was intrigue here, but a different sort than I am used to from him. His mother’s former ownership of an antiques gallery and management of others informed his knowledge of antiques. He says at the beginning of the book that each piece he describes is real. The different Polish people and stories that he shares are based on real people and situations in his wife’s family in Poland.
I thought the story ended somewhat abruptly, but then I found that this book is the first of three in the Priceless Collection series. So maybe some day I’ll find out what’s next for Jeffrey, Katya, and the others.