The Incarnations by Susan Barker

The Incarnations_Wang is a taxi driver in Beijing. His life is not successful in the normal sense, but he has a decent job and his wife and daughter, Echo add to his sense of well being. Then one day as he gets into his taxi to begin his shift, a letter falls from the visor onto his lap. It begins: “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.”  The letter goes on to reveal what the writer claims to be one of Wang’s past lives. Although Wang thinks it is a good story, he is more concerned about how the letter got into his taxi than the possibility that he might have had a past life. The very idea of past lives seems completely irrelevant to him and so life goes on until another letter with another story of another past life appears, and then another, and another. Suddenly Wang’s life is turned upside down, and he becomes consumed with trying to find out who is writing these letters.

The past lives that the letters reveal span over a thousand years of history, from the from the Royal Court of the Tang Dynasty, to the Mongol Invasion and finally the Cultural Revolution. The stories weave the history of China with the lives of  the people who experienced these events telling how the the spirit bride escapes her fate or of two boys enslaved by Genghis Khan and yet escape during the march over the Gobi Dessert or the the sad fate of a fisher boy caught up in the Opium Wars on a pirate ship whose good deed is misunderstood, and finally the story of young girls who must somehow survive the Cultural Revolution and sadism that is required to be a Red Guard. Each story talks of the limited choices given in order to survive, the will it takes to live, and the way history seems to repeat itself over and over again.

Barker is an incredible writer. The unique subject matter of  this book is of course is quite compelling, but her ability to showcase these amazing stories of past lives without letting them overshadow the main story of Wang and his all consuming search for the sender,   confirms her talent and skill as a writer. She also does not stint on making each character, whether they are in the stories of another life or in Wang’s story, a fully complete character with emotions and motivation particular to that time and place.  Her acuity for understanding the Chinese cultural is very evident and she uses it to her advantage, giving us a deeper understanding into who these characters are. This prize winning and highly acclaimed book  is something to savor and enjoy thoroughly!

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Marian, Lauren, Sharon, Ken and Keith

Book Study Worthy? YES

Read in ebook format.

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