Firstly, MERRY CHRISTMAS. I hope you're enjoying yourselves. I am currently in Australia, celebrating this lovely holiday with my brother and his family. Today though I want to keep to my standard schedule of Book Reviews on a Sunday. Sometimes I like to read books I would never normally pick up just because I think every authors book deserves to be read, and most of the time I am always pleasantly surprised. This book was no different, and the mystery was definitely the best part!
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.
This story starts just before the famous Chinese Olympic Games were staged in 2008. Back then China was struggling to enrich its image in the eyes of the other world nations. All citizens were required to change almost every way of doing things ostensibly to paint a picture of warm ad hospitable people.
For example, they were supposed to stop jumping the queue and spitting in public. The author carefully manages to change the names of scenes and assigns them fictional titles. For example, Dongda Anus Hospital, a popular tourist attraction in Beijing is given the name Dongda Proctology Hospital.
The novel revolves around a middle-aged Chinese taxi driver called Wang. He is living as an incarnate. He gets a mysterious letter from an anonymous person. The person claims to know everything about Wang’s past lives and even states to have witnessed all episodes. The author of the letter instructs Wang that he has to understand all his 6 past lives to fully comprehend things.
He later learns snippets of his troubled past lives. Notably, he was once a schoolgirl who turned to teachers and classmates after being denounced in the thick of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Across all his past lives, the book’s author succeeds at mixing past occurrences with Wang’s current life.
For example, readers come across Wang’s troubled marriage and his past failure in college that ended in him going to mental hospital. At the time, he was a son to a respectable Communist Party official. Wang also learns that his mother had her fair share of troubles; she died young.
Having been born of a Chinese-Malaysia mother and a British father, Susan Barker has natural use of the language and is gifted in storytelling. She was born in Britain and worked on this book while spending time in China. All episodes of the book are meticulously arranged and will leave any reader yearning for more.
The biggest lessons that anyone can learn from this book is the influence of past sins on a person’s present life. Here, she portrays the main character as the victim as well as the perpetrator of his misfortunes. In one of Wang’s previous lives, he was a prostitute who unsuccessfully sought elusive acceptance from her father.
Just as is her previous books, Barker uses her sense of humour here. At one instance, she talks about a mother who admonishes her child for failure to finish eating porridge. In so doing, she asks the child to think of all the American starving children. Simply put, the mystery is irresistible.