Evidence – Discussion Questions
1. The most obvious question: evidence of what? Is the book making a case for or against someone or something? Is it referring to evidence of a crime?
2. Throughout Evidence, the author implies that Kostandin Bitri does not come from any place in particular. It seems like he has intentionally avoided inserting specific geographic details in the text. How does this uncertainty regarding Kostandin's geographic origins — the implication that he comes from nowhere and belongs nowhere — affect your understanding of him as a narrative device 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 Kostandin an outsider, and if so, outside of what? How does the author play with this dynamic?
4. What is Kostandin’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 Kostandin’s experience with group counseling and about Kostandin’s reunion with his cousin.
5. What role does art play in creating, complicating or destroying outsider status? Consider the young artists’ work that Kostandin 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 Kostandin’s, which is fragmented and disoriented’. Why and how does he 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 Kostandin 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 position of being outside grant 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 ‘Kostandin’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 Kostandin describes pain filling his body ‘like liquid filling a vessel’. Kostandin 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 Kostandin 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?