BOOKS IN PRINT

Evidence by Ian Colford  

The very human story of a young refugee striving to improve his life in a world that seems at every turn to conspire against him. He is not always likeable, but his struggles have a universal quality that readers can recognize.

The stories in Evidence are a connected sequence of reminiscences, told out of chronological order, by a single narrator. Kostandin Bitri is a wanderer, uprooted by war from an unnamed eastern European country. As he moves first to Western Europe and then to North America looking for a place to live and an identity, he observes the societies he restlessly inhabits with an uneasy, distrustful eye. Sometimes seeking a foothold or an advantage, sometimes just passing though, he observes the ways people torment and use each other. He sees the worst impulses that humanity tolerates, not only in others but in himself.

He relates his experiences in random order as they might occur to him in an evening’s conversation with a sympathetic but sometimes horrified listener. As an outsider, he observes corruption and banality, the dangers of ignorance in a brutal world, the need for caution and disguise. What he sees and describes amounts to a relentless deconstruction of power relationships: the power of the police over a terrorized population in an authoritarian state, of wealth over poverty in the bourgeois cultures of the West, of men over women, adults over children, of lies over truth. In his encounters with strangers he also sometimes meets with kindness, generosity and unselfishness, but they are rare, and as a person victimized and scarred by his past he cannot help finding such behaviour strange or naive.

In the final story he returns to his homeland to visit the last surviving member of his family, a distant cousin. Looking for the past, he finds a surprising, unrecognizable new reality.

prize

2009—Thomas H Raddall Atlantic Fiction Prize,
Shortlisted

prize

2009—Margaret & John Savage First Book Award,
Winner

prize

2009—Danuta Gleed Literary Award,
Runner-up

prize

2009—IPPY,
Runner-up

prize

2009—ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year,
Shortlisted

prize

2009—ReLit Award,
Shortlisted

Review quote

‘The polyglot Kostandin comes to English as a sixth or seventh language, which may explain some of the book’s curious formality. But the writing is also emotionally understated so as not to come across as stilted, and the impersonal effect is less generic than otherworldly. Colloquial rhythms and figures of speech are avoided.

‘Kostandin’s earnestly revealing yet objective way with words gives the impression of an exile not even at home in his own skin, as when he awakes after a near-fatal car accident to feel pain filling his body ‘‘like liquid filling a vessel.’’

‘The result is a book less concerned with story than mood. Kostandin’s suspicious nature is the product of a lifetime filled with experiences of loneliness, otherness and vulnerability -- feelings he recognizes in himself and develops a sensitivity to in others. This in itself makes Evidence something of an exotic work of Canadian fiction, presenting history and geography in expressionistic, psychological terms, and without much recognition of community at all. Like Kostandin, it stands a bit apart.’

—Alex Good, Toronto Star

Review quote

‘Any thought brought to bear upon this writing only proves it more intriguing, more rewarding. It’s a rich, shadowed, mind-tweaking puzzle of a book: a shrewd gathering of evidence that entrusts judgment and verdict to the reader.’

—Jim Bartley, Globe and Mail

Review quote

‘These stories explode in vivid detail, amazing breadth of characterization and geography, and stunning displays of conflict and emotional upheaval. Colford has a remarkable ability to depict dissonant characters out of step with their surroundings: a college professor who witnesses an assault and is helpless to do anything about it; a perpetrator of violence who, during counselling, grimly meets a woman drawn to his violence, the very thing he is supposed to be purging from his being; an American student lured back to his northern Albanian homeland to seek evidence of the death of his parents at the hands of ethnic cleansing; a naive hotel worker duped in a horribly inhumane way by an unassuming older woman, plus a wild array of other characters, both major and minor. Even the secondary characters, such as the two children of a less-than-honest but despairing Romanian woman, strike with force. In this story, Colford reveals poverty and hopelessness via a pair of children, without resorting to cliché or dull sentiment -- and by doing so evokes chilling realism. Often there is a creeping, subdued malice at work in these stories mingled with an artful but slightly deadpan delivery that reminds me of Michel Houellebecq.’

—Matthew Firth, Danforth Review

Review quote

‘When it comes to Kostandin Bitri, the narrator of Ian Colford’s mesmerizing collection of short stories, the evidence is contradictory, provocative and disturbing. Kostandin is at once a straight talker and a liar, startlingly honest yet rigidly private. A victim of cruelty and trauma, both personal and political, occasionally a criminal, capable of almost sociopathic sadism, he is a wholly compelling character, even when we hate or fear him. The riddle of Kostandin’s personality and history is what drives a book not so much suspenseful as utterly absorbing.’

—Naomi Lewis, The Fiddlehead

Review quote

‘At first it may seem as if sorting the stories into chronological order and pinpointing Bitri’s exact origins and location in any given story are huge puzzles left for the reader. But eventually it becomes apparent that these details do not really matter: Colford has created a haunting character in Bitri, and the real puzzle is how easy it is to be enthralled by a violent, selfish and seemingly unlikeable man. Yet just as the inhabitants of these stories find themselves drawn to the mysterious Bitri, so too will the reader.’

—Kate Watson, Atlantic Books Today

Author comments

While writing Evidence I was motivated by the fascination that many people share for things ‘foreign’. I also wanted to cloak my narrative in mystery and uncertainty. Not mystery in the conventional sense of What happens next? But something more along the lines of Who are these people and why are they doing these things? My favourite books have always been those that persuade the reader to turn the page, not because of a plot-driven story line, but because the world the author has created is so odd and so compelling -- that is, familiar while at the same time utterly outside our experience -- that the reader cannot pull him- or herself away until the final page. In works of this nature the world in which the action takes place becomes a puzzle that the reader is trying to solve. These books can be disorienting or even disturbing, but the best of them leave an indelible impression on the mind. Something else I was thinking of while I was writing is the sort of elemental sketch that with a few simple lines suggests a shape or figure, and yet when we look at it our mind transforms the lines into a complete picture. I deliberately stripped the narrative of detail in order to provide the reader’s imagination with an opportunity to fill in the blanks.

Description for reader

To clarify, Evidence is a collection of linked short stories narrated by Kostandin Bitri, a refugee from Eastern Europe, chronicling his journey from a homeland devastated by war to a new life in the west. In the book, the stories are not arranged in a chronological or linear sequence and appear, in fact, to have fallen into place at random. The reader meets Kostandin in the first story already well along in his journey, but subsequent stories skip back and forth, giving the reader glimpses into his life at important moments. In determining the order the stories would follow in the finished book, I was faced with a problem because as I wrote them, I dropped the plot of one when I started the next, so that no story references any other. In one or two cases it’s obvious that the events of a particular story follow or precede others (for example, in one he’s a child), but in others it’s not clear at all, even to me. So when the time came to submit the final manuscript, I retained the more or less random arrangement, first, because I didn’t want to impose a structure on the book that would comes across as contrived or artificial, and, second, because I decided it was appropriate for the reader’s experience to mirror Kostandin’s, which is fragmented and disjointed.

—Ian Colford

Discussion question for Reading Group Guide

1. The most obvious question: evidence of what? Does this book follow a trial? Is it making a case for someone or something? Or is it evidence in a mystery?

2. At the end of Evidence, Colford makes clear that Konstandin Bitri is not intended to come from any place in particular, and that Colford purposefully avoided specific geographic detail in the text. How does knowing that Konstandin is truly from nowhere -- belongs to nowhere -- affect your understanding of him as a narrative tool and as a character?

3. Describe the inside/outside dynamic in Evidence. Who defines the boundaries? Or does a permanent boundary between inside and outside exist? Is Konstandin an outsider, and if so, outside of what? How does Colford play with this dynamic?

4. What is Konstandin’s relationship with his heritage? Does the notion of being inside or outside of a culture or society apply to that relationship? Consider, for example, the stories about Konstandin’s experience with group counselling and about Konstandin’s reunion with his cousin.

5. What role does art play in creating, complicating or destroying outsider status? Consider the young artists’ work that Konstandin encounters on exhibition.

6. Colford also writes at the end of Evidence that he ‘decided it was appropriate for the reader’s experience to mirror Konstandin’s, which is fragmented and disoriented’. Why and how did Colford accomplish this? Discuss whether you feel like an outsider while reading the stories. Outside of the narrative? The character? The world?

7. There are several examples where Konstandin seemingly antagonizes others by choice. Is it possible to be an outsider by choice? Those on the margins of society are often considered to be at a disadvantage or weakened, but is this always the case? When, if ever, does the quality of being outside give power or control?

8. Kate Watson of Atlantic Books Today wrote that ‘Colford has created a haunting character in Bitri, and the real puzzle is how easy it is to be enthralled by a violent, selfish and seemingly unlikeable man. Yet just as the inhabitants of these stories find themselves drawn to the mysterious Bitri, so too will the reader.’ Why does the outsider, or the foreign, invite such interest? Is exclusion -- and fascination with those excluded -- inherent to human nature, or can/should it be resolved? Do you think that Evidence offers a way of understanding exclusion or isolation?

9. Alex Good of the Toronto Star wrote that ‘Konstandin’s earnestly revealing yet objective way with words gives the impression of an exile not even at home in his own skin,’ such as when Konstandin describes pain filling his body ‘like liquid filling a vessel’. Konstandin also forgets an entire near-death experience, and loses control of himself to the extent that he seriously abuses his ex-lover. Would you describe Konstandin as outside of his own self? How would such a state come about, and how would it be resolved? What implications might this have for your understanding of Evidence as narrative fiction, or for fiction and art generally?

Unpublished endorsement

‘Ian Colford’s stories linger in the mind long after one finishes them. They are unified by the similarities of the protagonists and by the consistent tone of the storytelling, remarkable in its lack of emotion, yet creating a melancholy mood which is strangely addictive. One is dazzled by the ingenuity of the plots, each one so different, so imaginative, so intriguing. Disappearances, abandonment, betrayals, revenge -- not happy subject matter, yet the reader begins each successive story with eager anticipation of the adventure to come. These are remarkable stories told by a writer who has mastered his craft.’

Unpublished endorsement

‘Kafka and Kosinski collaborate. The result is Evidence. Reader discretion advised.’

—Richard Cumyn


authorPic

Ian Colford’s first story was published in 1983 and he has subsequently had more than twenty pieces of fiction, reviews and essays published in a variety of periodicals. Travel to Greece, Portugal, Turkey and Italy have laid a foundation upon which much of his recent fiction is constructed. His work has won awards and has been nominated for the Journey Prize. He lives in Halifax and for the last twenty years has laboured at Dalhousie University.

For more information please visit the Author’s website »

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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FICTION / Short Stories

LITERARY COLLECTIONS / Canadian

ISBN-13: 9780889843035

Publication Date: 2008-04-01

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 192

Price: $22.95