The Incarnations

The Incarnations

Book - 2015
Average Rating:
11
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Hailed as "China's Midnight's Children," a gripping new novel about a Beijing taxi driver whose past incarnations haunt him through searing letters sent by his mysterious soulmate.
Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, 2015
Edition: First Touchstone hardcover edition
ISBN: 9781501106798
1501106791
9781501106781
1501106783
Characteristics: 371 pages ; 24 cm

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SFPL_danielay Apr 06, 2018

A Beijing taxi driver is receiving mysterious letters about his former reincarnations from another person linked to him through several lives. We follow their often violent history from the Tang dynasty all the way to the Cultural Revolution and then to the present time. The suspense builds up slowly but once it does, you won't be able to put the book down until the surprise ending.

d
Dani_Beaumier
Feb 18, 2018

This is a mystery/ thriller that has a lot of ups and downs. I enjoyed the book and highly recommend it for mature readers. Normally I am able to chew through a novel in a weekend, however this particular book took me about a week to complete. There are certain aspects of the book that are better not to rush through, I found myself setting in down to process exactly what was happening. Overall I give is a 9/10 for narrative, character development, and the historical/cultural input the book has. A great read for book clubs.

b
becker
Jun 30, 2017

Highly recommended if you enjoy being swept away by a story. I bought right into this book. Enjoyed every page of it.

s
solheber
Sep 04, 2016

Reads like a mix of David Mitchell and Haruki Murakami

Marlowe Apr 28, 2016

Susan Barker takes the reader through an expansive tour of Chinese history by way of one family's reincarnations. This is a fascinating read that truly engages, detailing unique periods of Chinese history, while also weaving an intricate and suspenseful family drama.

c
catherinejoy
Oct 27, 2015

Bleak and depressing book. Tried to push through to the end, but gave up with a sigh of relief. The premise of the book is what drew me in, but it was a letdown.

Oct 21, 2015

Easy to put down, harder to pick back up.

rere3 Oct 04, 2015

This is a haunting novel - it draws you in and its characters will haunt you long after you have returned it to the shelf. It is savage and bleak as the other comments point out. Barker is an author to watch.

g
gendeg
Sep 27, 2015

Susan Barker’s The Incarnations starts in Beijing in the summer of 2008. A letter is left in a cab driven by a nebbish, unassuming driver named Wang Jun. Wang lives a relatively quiet and ordinary life with his wife Yida and daughter Echo. The letter soon changes everything for Wang, quickly ensnaring him in messy cat and mouse game as he tries to figure out the identity of his stalker.

More letters come. The author makes a bold claim: He/she is someone who has known Wang for centuries, through past lives, and claims a duty to inform him. “To have lived six times, but to know only your latest incarnation, is to know only one-sixth of who you are.”

The novel cycles through each incarnation—Wang as a eunuch, a slave during the Mongolian invasion, a concubine during the Ming Dynasty, a Tanka fisherboy during the rise of British colonialism, and a student during the Cultural Revolution. There’s a twist though. The letter writer isn’t just writing a straight-up biography. It’s a personal history of a much different sort, more confessional than historical, and it is soon revealed that the letter writer shares a deep, complex, and very twisted bond with Wang, one that’s scarred by violence, lust, incest, and murder.

Barker writes these two lives as if they are twined souls, soul mates, but quickly strips the romanticism of that idea and makes it a raw, elemental bond—one that is filtered through a complicated amalgam of longing and rejection. It is a poisonous dance—victim/exploiter. Wang Jun’s lives are characterized by abuse, treachery, rage, jealousy—the basest, most reckless, and most damaging of human emotions. The Incarnations feels like tilt-a-whirl of these dark impulses and how they can sabotage relationships.

As Wang Jun learns about his past lives, we are also embroiled in his present. The letters disturb him to the core and seem to precipitate an unraveling in his personal life, revealing cracks and weaknesses in his relationships to his father, stepmother, wife, and daughter. We learn about Wang’s troubled past. An underachieving college dropout, son of a wealthy Communist Party official, troubled marriage, brewing, tortured conflicts about his sexuality. Wang is marred and haunted by a history of mental instability, a hateful relationship with his abusive father, and guilt over his mother’s death.

The way Barker weaves these realities together, past and present, is seamlessly done. Barker could have left this as a series of chopped-up tales, and while the novel does read sometimes like a collection of disparate exotic, rococo short stories, Barker ties everything together in the end.

The Incarnations is remarkable for its storytelling and detail. You can tell Barker did incredible research for this. As these tortuous lives unfold, we are simultaneously treated to the vast, rich scope of China’s past and present. What readers get is a compelling, imaginative romp through history. I was absolutely entranced and pulled in as I read.

Fair warning: The lives of Wang Jun are painful and heartbreaking. The many incidences of savagery and betrayal are written with unforgiving detail. The bleakness is unrelenting, though oddly never wearisome because Barker writes with such empathy for her characters. But don’t look for happy endings in any of the six lives. It’s pretty obvious that being an incarnate is more a cruel curse than a blessing. And there is never any redemption in subsequent lives, although there is always the hope. Sadly, kindness and altruism rarely pay off. Kill or be killed seems to be the moral rule in this universe. “Being born into this world is hell,” Wang Jun’s mother teaches him as a child. “You will be crushed with countless millions all your life long.”

t
theequ1nn
Sep 15, 2015

An average attempt at being Haruki Marakami . Haruki would have done so much better.

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