Title: The Incarnations
Author: Susan Barker
Publisher: Touchstone, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.
Publication Date: August 2015
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Who are you? you must be wondering. I am your soulmate, your old friend, and I have come back to this city of sixteen million in search of you. So begins the first letter that falls into Wang’s lap as he flips down the visor in his taxi. The letters that follow are filled with the stories of Wang’s previous lives—from escaping a marriage to a spirit bride, to being a slave on the run from Genghis Khan, to living as a fisherman during the Opium Wars, and being a teenager on the Red Guard during the cultural revolution—bound to his mysterious “soulmate,” spanning one thousand years of betrayal and intrigue. As the letters continue to appear seemingly out of thin air, Wang becomes convinced that someone is watching him—someone who claims to have known him for over one thousand years. And with each letter, Wang feels the watcher growing closer and closer… Seamlessly weaving Chinese folklore, history, and literary classics, The Incarnations is a taut and gripping novel that sheds light on the cyclical nature of history as it hints that the past is never truly settled.
WOW! What a rush of a novel. I wasn’t expecting much when I first opened The Incarnations. I wasn’t drawn in by the cover. It’s got a lot of embossing and the gold on the dragon head is pretty, but I’m not sure if it’s one I’d pick up in the store. But I plunged into this book and I’m so glad I did. It’s been compared to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. It’s a story about lives across time, intertwining again and again, reliving history in different times and places.
The story is sinister, but also mystical. It builds and grows as each past life is revealed to us. As Driver Wang’s life falls apart in the present, we learn about how his lives came together, and disintegrated in the past. His is a soul doomed in every lifetime. He is bound to other souls, living each life with them. Their lives are sad and often incredibly tragic. Death and devastation follow them in every lifetime. It’s inescapable. The memories of the past are told through letters written by The Watcher. The Watcher observes Driver Wang, but its presence drives him to irrationality and suspicion. The Watcher’s stories are so integral to understanding Wang, his tale, and his relationship with his “soulmate.” Violence is ever present in every history.
While I completely understand why this book has been compared to David Mitchell’s stories, that’s quite a lofty comparison. The Incarnations, while very well written–a story to set you on edge and get your heart thumping–is no David Mitchell. Don’t expect the same level of complexity and intensity. But Susan Baker holds her own. I really enjoyed this story. Baker writes characters that you’ll love, and others that you’ll loathe with every fibre of your being.
Definitely a must-read. If you love folklore or stories that transcend the bonds of time, The Incarnations is a story for you.