The Incarnations by Susan Barke

Wang is a taxi driver in Beijing, China. His days are spent ferrying nameless individuals from one end of the city to the other. In the years he has spent driving he has never paid much attention to his passengers, until one day a mysterious letter appears in his taxi and changes everything.

The letter claims to be from Wang’s soulmate and is the first in a series, each one telling of their previous past lives together. Though they seem to appear out of thin air, Wang soon believes he is being watched and believes he knows who the mysterious author is. Also with each letter, Wang knows the author is getting closer to him and to his family.

The Incarnations was another one of those books that I picked up on a whim because the blurb on the back sounded interesting, and once more dear reader I am so glad I did.

In the story we are introduced to Wang, a taxi driver in Beijing; a man who believes himself happy with a wife and daughter. A man who has a strained relationship with his father and step-mother; but who, like many, try to make the best of what he has. That is until the first letter arrives and Wang is taken on a path he did not wish to go down.

It is clearly evident that Barke did her research for not only the letters of the past but for the modern day story as well. The Beijing of 2008 is gearing up for the Olympics and the changes that occur to the city during that time weave throughout the story, mimicking the changes that occur to Wang and his family with each of the letters. The tales written in the letters also have this thread woven throughout, the individuals each going through changes whether for their benefit or not.

What I found truly heart-breaking though was the ending. Given the recurrent nature of each of the tales, dealing with death and rebirth, there really wasn’t any other way for the book to end. It was the path there that was truly hurtful for while Wang believed he knew the truth, he couldn’t have been further from it.

I found The Incarnations to be an absolutely fascinating read. The threads of the past and present and potential future were woven together so well. It is no wonder this book was up for so many different awards. Readers who enjoy novels set in China, whether past or present, should definitely give this one a try. I don’t think they’ll be sorry in the least.

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