Jason Quinn Malott

The world is written first . . .

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The Evolution of Shadows

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 Todorović, 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.

“Jason Quinn Malott’s debut, The Evolution of Shadows, is a devastating, often dizzying novel of returns and turnarounds.”
— - Abigail Deutsch Bookforum.com

“In his first novel, Malott strips down the language and amps up the tension as he creates an indelible portrait of the shell shocked and dispossessed.”
— - Joanne Wilkinson Booklist.
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.)

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— Publishers Weekly
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.
— -Library Journal (Starred Review)