The Gates of Paradise

One night several years ago, I was working at a bookstore, and I was bored. My MO on nights like these was to read up on (surprise!) books: new releases, interesting factoids, things I hadn’t heard of. And somehow I found myself perusing this article, about books written in a single sentence. At the outset, it highlights two authors: Bohumil Hrabal, who is one of my favourite writers and a novella virtuoso, and Jerzy Andrzejewski, who I’d never even heard of. The former penned “Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age” in a single massive run-on sentence, and the latter did the same with “The Gates of Paradise.”

I’d already read “Dancing Lessons,” and enjoyed it thoroughly (but if you’re new to Hrabal, start with “Too Loud a Solitude”), so it was a matter of course that I wanted – no, I needed to read “The Gates of Paradise.” Which book, incidentally, has by all accounts been out of print since sometime in the late sixties. The gauntlet was thrown down, and an obsession was born.

For once, the internet was no help: I couldn’t find a copy anywhere. I discovered that the University of Regina had a copy in its holdings, and that was the closest I came. For the next four years, whenever I found myself in a used bookstore I would head immediately to the “A”s, having long since memorized the author’s humdinger of a last name. In an English bookstore in Poland I found one of Andrzejewski’s other books, but even in his home country nobody seemed to know much about “The Gates of Paradise.”

And here’s some unsurprising full-disclosure: I like to own my books. I like to dog-ear them, and mark them up, and admire them on my shelf. But eventually the search grew wearisome, and I conceded defeat. I went online to the website of the Winnipeg Public Library, and submitted a form requesting Andrzejewski’s elusive book on interlibrary loan from the University of Regina.

Barely two weeks later I had the book in my hands, and I read it twice, and I loved it. Often the end of such a lengthy quest will bring a sense of anticlimax, but in this case I was nothing but pleased.

But as it turned out, the quest wasn’t over. I noticed something peculiar on the yellowed hardcover from the U of R: instead of Jerzy Andrzejewski, the publisher had anglicized the author’s name to George Andrzeyevski! Another quick internet search turned up a scant handful of copies under the “George” moniker on abebooks, and given barely another week I had my own copy in my hands. In fact, for a few days there, I had two copies of the elusive book in my possession!

Of course I gushed about it to all of my friends, though I suspect only a few of them understood the magnitude of my quest, and of my obstinacy, and of my excitement. And of course I’d love to recommend this book to you, to everyone, but as I discovered, it’s not the easiest thing to get ahold of (and you’d better believe I’m going to take darn good care of my own copy)!

-B

Photo on 2014-07-26 at 12.24 PM

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