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The Evolution of Shadows
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The Evolution of Shadows

4.5 4
by Jason Quinn Malott

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In July of 1995, the news photographer Gray Banick disappeared into the Bosnian war zone and doing so took away pieces of the hearts of three people who loved him: Emil Todorovic, his interpreter and friend; Jack MacKenzie, his mentor who taught Gray to hold his camera steady between himself and the worst that war presents; and Lian Zhao, who didn’t have


In July of 1995, the news photographer Gray Banick disappeared into the Bosnian war zone and doing so took away pieces of the hearts of three people who loved him: Emil Todorovic, his interpreter and friend; Jack MacKenzie, his mentor who taught Gray to hold his camera steady between himself and the worst that war presents; and Lian Zhao, who didn’t have the strength to love him as he wanted her to. Now, almost five years later, they have gathered in Sarajevo to find out what happened to Gray, the man who had taught them all what love is.

Each driven character in this novel believes fully that there is a love strong enough to sustain them, even in the extreme circumstances of war. But each time they have uncovered a glimpse of such a thing, they have failed tragically love itself.

Or, to see it another way, this is a novel about how love fails us every time—or almost every time.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Malott employs a matter-of-factness that emphasizes the horrific unlikelihood of his war stories. All the while, he pulls the reader from one story to the next, from one period and place to another—from present-day Bosnia back to Kansas City, where Gray lived; from the search for Gray back to his days in the war.”—Bookforum.com

“Malott strips down the language and amps up the tension as he creates an indelible portrait of the shell shocked and dispossessed.”—BOOKLIST

“Compelling.”—The Wichita Eagle

“A sparely written and stark depiction of three people and a nation confronting the horrors of war…The causes and consequences of a centuries-old conflict (for historical background, Ivo Andric’s novel Bridge on the Drina, is a classic work) are revealed through deft storytelling and main characters that transcend their ethnicities to become real people in all their complexity.”—ALBANY TIMES UNION.COM

"A timely meditation on exile and illness, love and guilt, beautifully written…I look eagerly forward to whatever he writes next."—Scott Phillips, author of The Ice Harvest

Publishers Weekly
Malott follows several characters negotiating the searing and scarring effects of war in his trenchant debut. In 1995, Chinese-American Lian Zhao travels to Sarajevo looking for her lover, Gray Banick, an American journalist who has disappeared. She's helped by Jack MacKenzie, Gray's mentor, and Emil Todorovic, Gray's interpreter. Malott explores each character, opening their lives to expose the wounds the war has inflicted upon them. While the novel does include its share of wrenching battle scenes, its emotional center comes from more nuanced themes: the friendship between Gray, Jack and Emil; Gray and Jack's addiction to war journalism; the hopelessness of Lian's loveless marriage; Jack's nihilistic attitude after being surrounded by death for so long. This could easily have been a clichéd war diary, but Malott avoids the pitfalls of sentimentality, providing a refreshingly clear-eyed evocation of friendship, love and loss. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Alternating between 1995 and 2000, Malott's first novel concerns a group of journalists covering the Bosnian War who later return to Sarajevo to try to learn what happened to one of their company—charismatic photographer Gray Banick, who stared down atrocities through the lens of a camera. Among them are Banick's Bosnian interpreter, Emil Todorovic´, who has suffered a horrific loss at the hands of the Serbs; hard-drinking correspondent Jack MacKenzie, whose addiction to the adrenaline rush of war has cost him his family; and Lian Zhao, a Chinese American woman. Lian had a brief but passionate affair with Banick in Kansas City, which ended when she bowed to the wishes of her traditionalist parents and married another Chinese American. Her feelings stirred again after receiving a letter from Emil asking about Gray, she returns with the others to the village where he was last seen in the hopes of uncovering clues to his fate. VERDICT This is a passionate, wrenching tale of love and war whose tone and subject matter offer an update to Hemingway.—Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, North Andover, MA

Product Details

Unbridled Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

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By Jason Quinn Malott


Copyright © 2009 Jason Quinn Malott
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-932961-84-3

Chapter One


Lian hears the wind in the trees outside and the creak of the house as its timbers contract in the cool night. The sound fades and comes back like the false sound of the ocean in a seashell. She lies in the small bed the same way she did as a child, her arms crossed over her chest and the arches of her feet pressed together. It's the position of a corpse, and she once thought it would fool the ghosts into believing she was already dead.

She tries not to think of Emil downstairs. He has told her he is sometimes unable to sleep and she shouldn't be concerned by the sound of him pacing the house, but she can't hear anything that sounds human. Only the wind and the creaking house. She tries to think of Gray, the man she has come to find. The way his voice sounded in the morning. The smell of his body, like a warm orange. Even in the dark she can see the small box in the corner of the room that holds Gray's belongings, which Emil has given to her. The journal. The binder full of photos of her. Some clothes she had held to her face the first night, searching for the ghost of his scent. This is how she pulls back from the sounds of the house and drifts to sleep, her hands turning cold against herchest.

Downstairs, Emil prowls, a prisoner of his memories. At night, with the silent accusation of her presence in the house, he feels as if he is constantly breaking the surface of water, exploding air out of his lungs and sliding underneath again. He counts his steps as he paces. It's nine steps across the main room as he moves around the furniture and past the green-painted wall where his uncle was shot. He steps into the kitchen, over the place where his father's blood had collected in the low spot by the entry, and takes another nine steps to the door that opens onto the small, dark garden behind the house. Beyond the garden are five grave markers, the dark silhouettes rising up from the ground. Sometimes he dreams there is a sixth. The one for Mira.

He turns, goes back nine steps across the kitchen to the main room. Nine steps to the front door, which he opens as if expecting the dead. There is only the night air. The smell of dry grass and the faint, old smell of death.

Lian squints against the morning sunlight and looks out the kitchen window and watches Emil in the garden as he uses a piece of twine to tie the limp stem of a tomato plant to a stick he has pushed into the ground. He bends over and pulls weeds from around the plants, then throws them onto a compost heap next to the small garden. At times he will stop, look up past the plum trees and toward the hills to the east. She wonders what he is looking for.

When he reaches the end of the tiny garden he stands, looks at the house, and waves to her. He returns along the row of plants and picks two ripe tomatoes, carries them to the house and up the steps to the kitchen door. She turns to him as he comes in and places the tomatoes on the counter in front of her.

"I am sorry that we must keep waiting," he says. "I had hoped Jack would arrive the same day as you."

"It's fine," she says and looks out the window again at the green markers, the white writing on them. "Emil, why are there graves there?"

"There was no more room in the cemetery."

She looks at her hands where they rest on the counter. They seem connected to some other body.

"It must have been horrible," she says, but he is already moving away and into the main room. She hears the front door open and close softly. After waiting a moment, she leaves the kitchen and climbs the stairs to her room. She closes the door and sits on the bed, takes the photographs from her suitcase. A few months ago these photographs were hidden in binders that were packed in boxes, like secrets in exile, in the basement of her home back in America. She had no need to bring them with her, but they found their way into her suitcase, and she is glad of it. She shuffles them until she finds her favorite. It shows a man, his hair the color of mahogany, asleep on his back with the bed sheets pushed down to his bare hips. One hand rests on his stomach between his navel and the sparse patch of dark hair across his chest. His other hand near his face.

She had stood over Gray on the bed, naked, with his camera in her hands. The loud click of the shutter startled her. He looked up at her then, his eyes wet, and she wanted to dip her tongue in them to see if they tasted like chocolate.

That'll be a good picture, he said.

You're beautiful, she said and eased down to her knees so that she straddled him and pinned him down. Don't you dare hide this picture from me.

If you want that picture developed, it's going to cost you.

Yeah? How much?

She felt his hands slip along her thighs to her waist. So little pressure to make her lean down over him. The camera dropped on the pillow beside them. He kissed her while she moved her hands down his stomach and pushed away the sheet.

She hears Emil call her name from the hallway and she presses her hands to her face, rubs the memory from her eyes before finally getting up from the bed to open the door.

"A messenger has come from the village. I will need to go back to Sarajevo to get Jack."

"How long will you be gone?"

"The rest of today, part of tomorrow."

"I'll wait here then, if that's all right."

He nods, then turns and walks down the short hall to the stairs. Lian follows him down, her arms folded across her chest. From the open front door she watches him climb into the old Land Rover and hears the engine start. There is someone in the truck with him she doesn't know. It must be the person who brought the message that Jack had called. Maybe he is the same person who took her call the other day. She realizes she's never been anywhere without a phone before coming here.

Emil backs the truck around and starts down the narrow dirt track to the road that leads to the village. When the truck reaches the road, Lian closes the door to the silent house and stands in the main room staring at the bullet holes in the green wall.

Even though she had not been Ms. Jiang for nearly four years, the letter began:

Dear Ms Jiang:

I am Emil Todorovic. During the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, I was an interpreter and friend to Gray Banick. I have some of his possessions and know that he wrote to you from time to time. I am trying to locate him, but have not seen him since July 1995. If he is not alive, do you know where I might send his belongings?


The letter arrived at her office, like the letters Gray had sent. She kept it in her purse for nearly a week until she finally decided to respond. Several attempts ended in the trash before she settled on something simple and direct, something that would not betray the panic caused by the possibility of Gray's death.

Dear Mr. Todorovic;

I have not heard that Gray is back in the area, nor that he is dead. I never knew his family. Perhaps he has decided to live elsewhere.

Sincerely, Lian Zhao

The gap in her memory she'd created in order to forget Gray filled, and she couldn't stop thinking about him, about what might have happened to him. As his presence began to nest itself in the shadows at night, it became difficult to lie next to her husband. The lazy way Daniel dropped his arm over her made her feel no better than a pillow. His soft skin and faint hospital smell irritated her. She began to slip out of bed at night and drift down the hallway in the dark to the living room. She would curl up on the couch, a blanket pulled over her shoulders, and fall asleep there only to wake up thinking of Gray. All the ways he could have died.

When Daniel asked, she told him that she was restless and didn't want to wake him.

After the second week of sleeping on the couch, she told him: I have to go to England.

I've always wanted to see England, he said.

You don't need to come. It's business.

He set down his coffee mug, looked at her. She watched his eyes move.

It wouldn't be that difficult for me to get time off.

It's for work. I won't have any time to spend with you.

We can take a few extra days, can't we?

She frowned and looked away from him, out past the kitchen doorway to the darkness of the living room.

Daniel, I just want to go to London and do what I have to do and come back.

Why not make it into a vacation for us?

I just want to do business and leave. Can't I do this alone?

You do everything alone, Lian. He got up from the table and walked out of the kitchen.

She thinks of that as she lies awake in Emil's house and waits for the sounds she heard the previous night. There is the wind in the trees outside. The wind racing under the eaves of the house. Nothing else but her breathing.

It is too difficult to sleep, so Lian gets out of bed, goes downstairs in the dark. There are only the sounds of her feet pressing the floor. The wind outside. She feels a tingle, like soft cotton slipping over her skin, as she steps into the kitchen and reaches for the light switch. The feeling stops her. She stares into the darkness trying to discern a shape, not yet afraid. The tingle moves along her arm to her shoulder and tightens the muscles along her back. She turns on the light, expecting to see what had brushed against her in the dark. Nothing.

She crosses the kitchen and takes a glass from the cupboard, fills it with water from the faucet. She leaves the light on in the kitchen as she goes out and climbs the stairs. On her way, she turns on more lights. In her room, she leaves the glass on the old chair by the bed and starts back along her trail of light to the kitchen. She pauses in the main room and looks at the green wall. Then, slowly, she begins to turn out the lights, stepping from empty blackness into the safety of other lights.

If this were her house, she might give in to the superstitions her mother still clung to and which she herself had dismissed long ago. She would burn oil and lard in bowls and fan the smoke into every corner, chasing off the ghosts and spirits that seem to haunt these rooms.

Again, in the dark, there are no sounds outside her room and the tension will not leave her body. In bed, she presses the arches of her feet together and holds her arms tightly across her chest.

Don't you believe in something, Gray?

I believe in a lot of things, just not religion or ghosts.

So what is it that you do believe in?

Do you want my real answer or my flip answer?

Real, you jerk.

The only intangible thing I try to believe in is love, but it doesn't always work.

What do you mean it doesn't always work?

It's never permanent, he said.

I think it can be.

Emil drives out of the night and into the lighted streets of Sarajevo. Life has come back to the city, but he doesn't think it will ever completely recover. Something was amputated, both out there in the streets and somewhere within himself. As he guides the truck through the city, he passes intersections he once knew for their exposure to the hills. The number of people killed trying to cross. There seem to be no other memories but these.

Emil steers the vehicle into the small parking lot of the Holiday Inn, then down the ramp to the underground garage. There are not many cars inside. He parks near the entrance, shuts off the engine, and sits for a moment looking at the door leading to the stairs.

Twice now in the last week he has been here, and both times the place has seemed empty despite the hundreds of people staying in the rooms above. During the war, there had been a kind of desperate, panicked existence here. The manic coming and going of reporters and photographers. The U.N. officials in their blue helmets and flak jackets who gave their briefings as if there weren't explosions going off outside. Some of them seemed like children playing at war, excited by the mortuary playground Sarajevo had become.

He climbs out of the truck and walks across the hollow cavern to the door. He pushes it open and enters the stairwell. As he climbs to the ground floor, his footsteps echo off the walls. When he comes out of the stairwell, he pauses for a moment in the repaired lobby, then heads across the cavernous space to the lounge. All of it still familiar, but now muted in unfamiliar silence.

Jack sits at a table in the back of the lounge, a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Emil had been certain he would find Jack here. During the war, drinking was a necessity. Like smoking, it was a small act of self-destruction that seemed somehow sane compared to the destruction around them.

To Emil it seems Jack has shrunk since the war. The angles of his face are sharper, as if he has been starving himself, and his hair is thinner. Gray as old snow. There is a cane hooked on the edge of the table, and Emil is glad there will be no wheelchair to deal with.

He sits down and tries to avoid staring at the cane by Jack's elbow. The gunshot memories. He concentrates on the pack of Marlboros.

"Long time since I saw you, Jack."

The old man laughs, holds up the pack of Marlboros. Emil takes one and lights it with the lighter Jack slides across the table.

"I can't believe I got up the nerve to come back." He holds his cigarette and glass in the same hand, drinks, then sets the empty glass near the edge of the table. "Did she really come?"

"Yes. She is at the farm now, waiting."

"Why didn't you wait for me here?"

"She arrived two days ago. It costs her no money to stay with me."

Jack shifts his weight around in his chair, clears his throat. "I guess you'll be taking me to the farm then."

"Is that a problem?"

He clears his throat again and looks around the room. "No, I suppose not."

"The bodies are buried."

Jack nods, looks around again, and finally makes eye contact with Emil. "Gray's probably dead, you know."

"Maybe. Maybe not. He was alive when I left him. I heard there is a reporter from Athens who got married to a Bosnian woman and is living here in Sarajevo now."

"What does that have to do with Gray?"

"I have to look. So do you. He would have looked for us."

"He wouldn't have left us."

The waitress brings another drink and takes away the empty glass. Emil feels pinned to his seat, trapped by the memory of that final look over his shoulder. A body falling among trees.

"Can finally get good whiskey in this hotel," Jack says.


"I know. I'm sorry. When are we leaving?"

"Tomorrow morning, if we can," Emil says.

"Good. Gives me a chance to sleep off this drunk I'm working on."

"It will almost be like old times." "In that case I'll be sure to drink a lot more."

"Fine." Emil crushes out the cigarette, takes the pack of Marlboros, and stands. "Tomorrow."

"You didn't get fundamental on me, did you?"

"No. I must see Katja. Good-night, Jack."

Jack raises his glass and drinks.

Emil waits with his hands in the pockets of his jeans as Katja unlocks the bolts. She opens the door and stands squeezed between the door and the frame.

"You should have let me know you were coming," she says.

"I am sorry. I was not thinking."

She steps aside to let him in, then closes the door. The apartment is dark, with the blinds closed tightly over the windows.

"How long are you staying?"

"Just tonight."

"Then do not touch me."

"I am tired, Katja."

"Yes, of course."

He follows her through the small apartment to her bedroom. Slowly he takes off his shirt and jeans in the dark, then gets into bed with her. She turns away, a body of ice next to him.


Excerpted from THE EVOLUTION OF SHADOWS by Jason Quinn Malott Copyright © 2009 by Jason Quinn Malott . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Evolution of Shadows 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
kherbrand More than 1 year ago
This novel is about the coming together of 3 unrelated people to search for Gray Banick, a news photographer who disappeared 5 years earlier in the Bosnian war zone. Lian was his girlfriend - and also the reason he went to Bosnia; Emil was the interpreter he met while on assignment, and Jack was a fellow news photographer who was Gray's mentor. These three people come together to try to search for Gray, or Gray's remains, as a way to put an end to that chapter in their lives. Emil is still trying to find Mira, his fiancee who was taken away by enemy soldiers - in his head he knows she is dead, but in his heart, he refuses to give up hope. Katja, his current girlfriend, isn't sure that he will ever be able to let Mira go. Jack has given his whole life to surviving in war zones. Where his homecomings with his wife used to be exciting - they have become alienated over the years and she now feels as if he has deserted her. Most of the big events in their life he has learned of over the phone, half a world away. Jack realizes that Gray is a surrogate son to him, to replace the one that his wife had miscarried 30+ years before. That leaves Lian. She was always sure that her and Gray would not be together, but not because she didn't love him - even though she couldn't put it into words. Her family was bound by Chinese values and traditions, and those were put on her shoulders to carry forward. For this reason, she found herself engaged and married to Daniel, a Chinese doctor who works with her father. She realizes that she has been a coward her whole life, and hopes that by coming to Bosnia she will be able to come clean with Daniel about her past, and move forward in her life, on her terms. That is, at least, how I viewed these three people. I cannot say that I "enjoyed" this book - as the setting isn't something that someone would "enjoy". But I found that I could not put it down! The story was told between present interactions amongst Emil, Lian and Jack and flash backs on their relationships with Gray. While there isn't a lot of action, it moves forward steadily, hauntingly, through war-torn Sarajevo and the surrounding countryside. While the setting of the story is tragic, there is an underlying romantic element of never losing hope. I highly - highly! recommend this book. It is a great debut novel and I can't wait to see what else Mr. Malott has to bring us. For some reason, this passage has stayed with me: "I will take pictures of the truth. They will be ashamed of themselves." The man nodded. "But not until after my family is dead." "I come from a sleeping people," Gray said. "You are awake," the man said. "I must get back to my family." (p210)
gl More than 1 year ago
Synopsis: In 1999 Lian Jiang is surprised by a letter from Emil Todorovic in Bosnia-Herzegovina about Gray Banick who disappeared in July 1995. Emil has custody of Gray's remaining possessions and since he had spoken of her and written her over the years, Emil considered her his next-of-kin contact. The news comes as a shock. Though she is now married to an up-and-coming Chinese surgeon, Lian is driven to find Gray. She flies to Bosnia and meets up with two other people whose lives Gray Banick had touched. Lian Jiang, Emil Todorovic, his interpreter and friend, and Jack MacKenzie, Gray's mentor gather in Sarajevo to find out what happened to Gray. With little information to go on, they retrace Gray's steps in the war ravaged countryside. Each person carries their stories of grief and love. Review: Carefully crafted, The Evolution of Shadows, brings us deep into the lives of Lian, Emil, and Jack while gradually hinting who Gray is as a person. Lian came alive through the flashbacks, her internal monologues during the moments of reflection and through what we learn of the man that she married. Emil is probably the most sympathetic character, in part because he is so battered by tragedy and yet continues to push on. Jack gives us a glimpse of the life of an older and veteran journalist whose has spent most of his career covering foreign wars - his combination of emotional isolation, cynicism and sense of hope. I enjoyed Evolution of Shadows, it's an unusual book and draws you in. Also, I thought that Jason Quinn Malot's handled the interracial relationship between Lian and Gray with sensitivity. Publisher: Unbridled Books (October 20, 2009), 272 pages. Courtesy of Unbridled Books.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1995 in Sarajevo, American photographer Gray Banick vanishes. Years later, his former Chinese-American lover Lian Zhao receives a letter from Gray's interpreter Emil Todorovic who worked for the missing photographer asking about him. Although she married someone more acceptable to her parents, Lian always loved Gray. She leaves Kansas City for Serbia hoping to locate him. In Sarajevo she meets Gray's mentor Jack MacKenzie whose family finally gave up on him when he spent more time in hot spots than at home and Emil. The three begin a quest to learn what happened to Gray. THE EVOLUTION OF SHADOWS is a strong war drama that makes the case that those who see the horrors of combat even non fighters like reporters need bonds of friendship to emotionally survive; the US Army affirms this premise with buddies being a key element to prevent suicide amidst the troops. Each of the key cast members feel genuine even the missing Gray who is seen mostly though the flashbacks of his compatriots. Jason Quinn Malott provides a powerful character driven tale that avoids turning nostalgic or maudlin. Harriet Klausner
ChelseaW More than 1 year ago
Emil, Jack, and Lian are three very different people who come together with one thing in common: their love of a former lover and colleague named Gray. As a group, they return to Sarajevo to track him down and bring him home. The plot takes place from within war-torn land, thick with the memories of when all three were last there. This setting provides a dark and heavy feel that comes across as oddly refreshing. Malott has written an engaging and beautiful book that is gripping and yet gentle with it's contents. Hope and charm shine through the tragedy of loss, leaving readers with a little heartache but nonetheless content.