Tuesday, March 1, 2016
The Incarnations by Susan Barker
Driver Wang is a taxi driver in Beijing. He lives a typical working man's life. His wife works in a massage parlor. They live in a small apartment with their one child, a daughter. Money is tight but there is enough. He is contented with his life, or at least he is until the letters start coming.
The first letter is left in his taxi. It claims that he and the letter writer are both individuals who reincarnate and that their lives have been entwined for hundreds of years. Soon the letters start to tell the tales of past lives that the two have shared, sometimes as lovers, sometimes as friends, sometimes as enemies. There is sharing but betrayal, rejection and acceptance. Past lives include a slave of Genghis Khan, a concubine of the Imperial Emperor, a fisherman during the Opium Wars, a spirit guide marriage and teenage girls during the Red Guard days of the Cultural Revolution. In each life, the two die together, usually through some sort of betrayal.
The letters unsettle Wang. He is even more disoriented when he runs into an old friend, one who brought him nothing but misery in their friendship. Is this old friend the letter writer? What is his intent? Is it the destruction of Wang's marriage or something else?
Susan Barker is an English writer with a Malaysian mother. She lived in Beijing for several years after graduation for research while writing this novel. It spans the centuries and tells the stories of China's history through the lives of those in each time period. Along with the historical sweep and epic tales is the mystery Wang must solve and its effect on him. This book received a lot of recognition. It was a New York Times Notable Book of 2015 as well as a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2015. The reader will be entranced and swept along. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.