The Evolution of Shadows by Jason Quinn Malott

Deceptively slight, The Evolution of Shadows certainly packs a punch. In 1995 Gray Banick, a war photographer covering the Bosnian war, disappears. Five years later,the people closest to him in the world have gathered in Sarajevo to search for the man who none of them can forget, because he taught each of them something key about life and love, and inevitably about themselves.

Gray Banick is a character who comes into focus slowly over the course of The Evolution of Shadows. Through the memories and internal dialogue of the other characters I was able to watch him take shape, and he wasn’t the warm and fuzzy type.  He is a bit cold, distant and definitely hardened by the war – but still I liked the relationship that he had with his friends, and it was because of those remembered relationships that I wanted them  to find him no matter how unlikely it seemed.

The dialogue and the story were simple and straightforward, and it initially seems as if they are masking the story until I realized that I had been immediately sucked in by the characters.  Granted a window into their lives, I realized how adept Mallot was at portraying them and their troubled histories in short and sure strokes.  I loved getting to know Emil Todorović, Banick’s interpreter and friend; his photography mentor, Jack MacKenzie;  and Lian Zhao, the reluctant lover who would break an already unstable heart.  The delicate relationships that they developed on their search were beautifully rendered and moving.  I was particularly interested in the way Lian’s strong sense of familial identity played so a crucial role in defining her relationship with Banick.

The Evolution of Shadows is a compelling weave of flavorful and diverse characters, each confronting the limitations of themselves and their cultural upbringings in order to come together to help find  a friend. Whether it’s through the refusal to let go of a relationship that can never be again, or hiding behind relationships and habits which are safe, they see each other.  This novel is short and very accessible.  I received this book from another blogger friend and thought that I could easily read it in an afternoon, but found that I wanted to savor the journey of these characters as opposed to rushing right through it.  Though it was filled with the devastation and difficult images of the war in Bosnia, the spare style only added to its urgent beauty.

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