New York Times Notable Book of 2015
Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction Book of 2015
Finalist for the 2015 Kirkus Prize for Fiction
Winner of a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize
Hailed by The New York Times for its “wildly ambitious...dazzling use of language” and “mesmerizing storytelling,” The Incarnations is a “brilliant, mind-expanding, and wildly original novel” (Chris Cleave) about a Beijing taxi driver whose past incarnations over one thousand years haunt him through searing letters sent by his mysterious soulmate.
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 a century. And with each letter, Wang feels the watcher growing closer and closer…
Seamlessly weaving Chinese folklore, history, literary classics, and the notion of reincarnation, this is a taut and gripping novel that reveals the cyclical nature of history as it hints that the past is never truly settled.
With her latest, Barker (Sayonara Bar) produces a page-turning reincarnation fantasy. In modern-day Beijing, Driver Wang receives anonymous letters from a source claiming to have known him in five previous lifetimes over the past 1,000 years. The letters narrate these lifetimes set in the Tang Dynasty, 632 C.E.; the Jin Dynasty, 1213; the Ming Dynasty, 1542; the Qing Dynasty, 1836; and the People's Republic of China, 1966 and paint them in lush historical detail, exhibiting Barker's extensive research. These two "souls" have inhabited many rich characters (eunuch, prostitute, slave, concubine, pirate, Red Guard) and have been friends, enemies, parents, and lovers. Every new incarnation reverses their power dynamic, giving one the opportunity to betray the other. Not for the squeamish, these historical narratives contain graphic torture and sexual violence. Meanwhile, Wang's current incarnation also includes a series of radical shifts and identities within a lifetime: born to a wealthy government official father and a mentally unstable mother, he has been a promising student, an asylum inmate, a closeted homosexual, a husband, a father, and a taxi driver. Driving the narrative is the suspense over the identity of Wang's stalker and whether the stories are indeed true. A very memorable read.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Riveting, engrossing, horrific tale of the weakness of human nature. Totally overwhelming. It fascinated & repelled me at the same time. Are we truly fated to repeat such ugly scenarios endlessly thru time? God, I hope not!
Compelling story, but so much gratuitous graphic violence I just couldn’t finish it
Wonderful gripping powerful
This book is a hundred stories in one a true masterpiece! I enjoyed every page and will read it again!