Book Review: The Incarnations by Susan Barker

Name: The Incarnations
Susan Barker
Number of Pages:
478 (Paperback)
23rd April 2015 by Black Swan
Genre: Fiction, Historical


Beijing, 2008, the Olympics are coming, but as taxi driver Wang circles the city’s congested streets, he feels barely alive. His daily grind is suddenly interrupted when he finds a letter in the sunshade of his cab. Someone is watching him. Someone who claims to be his soulmate and to have known him for over a thousand years.
Other letters follow, taking Wang back in time: to a spirit-bride in the Tang Dynasty; to young slaves during the Mongol invasion; to concubines plotting to kill the emperor; to a kidnapping in the Opium War; and to Red Guards during the Cultural revolution.
And with each letter, Wang feels the watcher in the shadows growing closer …
Sweeping between China past and present, THE INCARNATIONS illuminates the cyclical nature of history, and shows how man is condemned to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.     – from Goodreads

My Rating:


My Thoughts:

From the very first pages of The Incarnations with that mysterious, atmospheric opening I became totally immersed in this world with Wang Jun and his enigmatic ‘soul mate’, who is apparently watching him in his present-day life as a taxi driver, husband and father, and writing him letters, almost taunting him to recall all the lives he’s lived before, which span an epic array of times, places and roles.
The letters arrive unannounced, claiming to know Wang better than anyone else in the whole world, for they have shared over 1000 years together, sometimes as friends, sometimes as family, sometimes as enemies. Whatever changes in circumstances, they are always present in each other’s lives and always have been.
Interspersed with Wang’s 2008 modern-day life a series of vivid alternate-realities, or past lives are bought to vivid life as the unknown letter writer tells their tales.

In one life Wang is the son of Sorceress Wu, and the ‘soul mate’ is actually his daughter, born under controversial circumstances. In another there are two slaves driven across the desert by the Mongol hoards. The third sees both souls as concubines to a cruel emperor.
All these lives offer at least one thing in common – whichever way you imagine the story will play out, there’s a twist and something different happens, yet for all the variety these two souls seem bound to cross paths in every time and space.

The story intricately weaves between the past and present, containing stories within stories. As Wang learns of his apparent past lives, we learn of his present incarnation, his life and loves and his troubled and painful youth. We learn of his relationship with his mother, and his time in hospital, where he met Zeng, who even years later still holds a fascination for Wang which could be a threat to his present happiness when Zeng reappears in Wang’s life.

Which such a variety of settings, characters and themes there’s something for everyone in the Incarnations, and I found it a very enjoyable read.

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