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The Incarnations

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  5,044 ratings  ·  853 reviews
Beijing, 2008, the Olympics are coming, but as taxi driver Wang circles the city’s congested streets, he feels barely alive. His daily grind is suddenly interrupted when he finds a letter in the sunshade of his cab. Someone is watching him. Someone who claims to be his soulmate and to have known him for over a thousand years.

Other letters follow, taking Wang back in time:
Paperback, 478 pages
Published April 23rd 2015 by Black Swan (first published July 3rd 2014)
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Katie I wondered why they were only set in China also. It never really explains that. I just assumed that because the two souls were connected with each oth…moreI wondered why they were only set in China also. It never really explains that. I just assumed that because the two souls were connected with each other that maybe they were also connected to China. And his mother could have easily put the letters in his cab. Remember he last saw her when he was 12 years old and nearly 20 years have passed since then. She could look much different and he would not recognize her. She could also wear a scarf and hat to cover her as much as possibly. (less)
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this book is very david mitchell-y in structure and theme, but it is somewhat less intellectually demanding than mitchell, and as the ever-astute blair points out, there isn't much of a difference between the voices of the discrete narratives. but that doesn't mean it's not an astonishingly good book on its own merits.

it's a sad, frequently brutal story of the various incarnations of two souls spanning the course of hundreds of years, with detail-rich backdrops of ancient to modern china. the st
Jeffrey Keeten
Aug 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: chinese
”In other incarnations I have explored every inch of you, with tongue and fingers and eyes. No matter how dilapidated, scarred and mutilated your body, I have always found you beautiful, for it is the soul beneath I seek.”

 photo Incarnations20dragon_zps5kcnlwqk.jpg

Wang Jun, a Beijing cab driver, starts receiving letters. They are not posted to him, but left where he will be sure to find them. They are disturbing letters because they are telling him things about himself that he doesn’t know. He doesn’t remember these revelations becau
The Incarnations, compared in the publisher's description to the work of David Mitchell, is a weird and wonderful piece of historical/fantasy/suspense fiction unlike anything else I've read. The book opens with a letter, written to a taxi driver named Wang Jun by a person who claims to be his 'soulmate'. In this strange missive, the so-called soulmate writes of a number of 'past lives' he or she (or it) has shared with Wang, ranging across centuries of Chinese history. Wang suspects it's a prank ...more
I feel that this book deserves a better review than I can give it. On the one hand, it's fantastically written, intriguing, perfectly plotted and wonderfully descriptive, and the various narrative strands woven throughout make it impossible to put down. So - a brilliant book, right?

I don't actually know.

See, on the other hand, The Incarnations is also harsh, gruesome, and - ultimately - thoroughly depressing, which I am really not in the right frame of mind to be reading at the moment. I finish
Carly O'Connell
Sep 06, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
When I picked up a book at BEA set in Beijing, I was very excited. As some of our readers may know, I have moved to China for a year to teach English, and I previously studied abroad in Beijing. Incarnations tells the story of a Beijing taxi driver who finds himself haunted by his past lives, receiving mysterious letters from his ‘soulmate’ detailing their past incarnations together. Having sat in the back of many a Beijing taxi and wondered about the lives of the drivers, I thought it would be ...more
History is coming for you.

Clever, thrilling and utterly fucked up. What an adventure this was.

A dark and twisted (seriously, TWISTED), albeit utterly enthralling reading experience that’ll take you on a wild and unnerving ride through the various dynasties of China, seamlessly weaving Chinese folklore and history.

Trigger warning for, well, every sick thing you can think of. Cannibalism, sexual assault, mutilation, torture and so much more.
One of the main quibbles my professors have had with my essays thus far is how the ambition of my ideas isn't quite supported by the structure of the analysis or the analysis of the structure. I'm getting a feel for the middle ground of close enough but not too close analysis, but I'll always prefer grandiose synthesis of major thematic concepts to counting syllables in each line of prose. There's hope for those less inclined towards the theoretical though, for if the number of syllables your pr ...more
Within the framing story of Wang Jun the taxi driver, the author tells us smaller stories, each set in a different time in China’s past, and told by an individual who says she and Wang have been encountering each other in each of these lives. Actually not just encountering each other, but playing significant, often painful parts in each others’ lives.
Wang has his own difficult life happening when the narrator begins sending him letters, describing each of these lives and their intense relationsh
Aug 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is so good, I'm afraid it has reduced me to incoherent babbling. I'll do my best to bring order to my thoughts, though, because I want EVERYONE to read it and love it as much as I do.

I also don't want to say too much about it because I think it's one of those where the less you know going in the better.

Wang is a cab driver in Beijing. He has a wife and a daughter. A strained relationship with his father and stepmother. Overall, he lives a simple, quiet life.

When he receives a strange
Jun 09, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book because the cover promised a read similar to David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. The Incarnations has the same interesting ingredient: re-incarnations with a novelty in a Chinese setting.

I definitely learned something about China and this is the only positive take-away from the book and the star it deserves. The atmosphere in Mao's China was similar to the one in 1984 by Orwell and thoroughly depressing.

My problem with the book was that there was too much cruelty, the two main char
Bex Dawkins
Apr 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't explain to you how much I enjoyed reading this book. Easily my favourite book I've read this year so far.

Wang is middle aged and living his life as a taxi driver in Beijing when mysterious letters start to be left in his taxi. These letters are elaborate tales of Wang's previous lives from someone who claims to be his soulmate. We're invited to read these letters and become engulfed in Wang's past lives, like reading many different stories which are all tied up into one book.

Wang has li
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I received a review copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. I got it from the publisher through my request in Edelweiss.

I wanted to read this book because it sounded like an interesting concept. Wang is a taxi driver who starts finding letters above the visor in his cab - letters that detail stories from different eras in China, that the mysterious letter writer claims are stories of a shared past life.

The blurbs compare this to David Mitchell but I find Mitchell to be more of a li
Jan 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book honestly blew me away.
It’s a spectacular narrative of a Beijing taxi driver in 2008 being shadowed by his soul mate across hundreds of years of Chinese history. Absolutely breathtaking.
The story was incredibly well written and intricately woven. The characters were vibrant and multifaceted (and often hard to sympathise with). The stories were cruel and grotesque; they were exposing and didn’t shy away from the truth. The fact that the stories had elements of historic accuracy chilled
3 stars - It was good.

Sweeping between China past and present, THE INCARNATIONS illuminates the cyclical nature of history, and shows how man is condemned to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

Reincarnation is one of those trigger words for me, where if I see it in a synopsis I immediately want to read the book. This was a solid addition to that theme, but not as great as I had hoped.

Reads almost like a collection of linked short stories, most taking place in ancient times. Almost all
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, 2018
4.5 stars

This was such a captivating journey through the histories of China as the main character, Wang, mysteriously receives letters stating that he and the letter writer are souls who have been reincarnates together in various lives for over 1000 years. Although it was grim and horrifying for much of the journey, I was fascinated by each story and I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite. As the journey continued, I found myself guessing and re-guessing who the letter writer could be, and i
Love Fool
Aug 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 th
Penguin Books NZ
(Marthie) It is probably way too early to start my ‘favourite books of the year’ list, but I rank The Incarnations by Susan Barker as one of my contenders. It is a truly amazing story, a brilliant feat of imagination that had me reading into the small hours.

A thousand years of Chinese history is presented to us through five incarnations, sweeping effortlessly from past to present – ranging from the Tang Dynasty up to life in modern-day Beijing. We follow the lives of two soulmates, forever bound
To truly live, you must understand where you come from.

Susan Barker’s The Incarnations starts in Beijing in the summer of 2008. A letter is left in a cab driven by a nebbish, unassuming driver named Wang Jun. Wang lives a relatively quiet and ordinary life with his wife Yida and daughter Echo. The letter soon changes everything for Wang, quickly ensnaring him in messy cat and mouse game as he tries to figure out the identity of his stalker.

More letters come. The author makes a bold claim:
Aug 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to sappho_reader by: The Adam Johnson blurb on cover.
Many compare The Incarnations to David Mitchell which I don't think is fair to be honest. I don't like it when an author, particularly a new one, is categorized as being like another. No, this is not a David Mitchell novel. It lacks Mitchell's plot complexity but that doesn't mean it's not worth reading on its own merits. I enjoyed this more than I expected and I was captivated throughout. When considering a premise of reincarnation I assumed that the two soul mates in this book would be lovers ...more
Mar 10, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asia, 2019
Having seen a couple of comparisons to David Mitchell, I cannot say I agree with that. Yes, the storytelling goes back & forth in time, concerning souls that are destined to meet again & again, lifetime after lifetime. The style is very different from Mitchell's (Mitchell being more literary) & more depressing. While Mitchell's characters meet in different lifetimes, there's at least some love, some hope. The Incarnations has little hope & the reality for the characters is lifetime after lifetim ...more
Nov 24, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars

I'd heard The Incarnations described as being David Mitchell-esque, which may have been to Susan Barker's detriment. In no way is this even close to being a Mitchell Masterpiece, and in no way should Barker be compared to Mitchell. It does her no favours and ended up detracting from my enjoyment of the book- a bit unfair of me, I know.

I also think that I read The Incarnations at a bad time - I just wasn't in the mood for an incredibly dark, abusive book. After wading through the fifth o
The Incarnations begins with Driver Wang, a taxi driver in Beijing being stalked by someone claiming to know him and his family and leaving "stories" for him. Even though Wang reports this to the police, they tell him there is nothing they can do and so Wang continues to worry for his wife and young daughter.

Each "story" or incarnation is told throughout the book and in chronological order, beginning with the Tang Dynasty, AD 632 and ending in 1966 with The Anti-Capitalist School for Revolutiona
Sep 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book opens with a lone writer, hunched over an ancient keyboard in a grim, concrete room typing out dreams and obsessing over Beijing taxi driver Wang Jun. They are soulmates, their lives intertwined across generations and Barker explores each of these incarnations in depth. They are grim stories with dark endings and it doesn’t look like Wang’s present incarnation is going to fare much better.

Lots of exotic oriental set pieces that read like intertwined short stories as the mystery of who
Allen Adams

Picking up a book is a roll of the dice. They say one should never judge a book by its cover, but often, we have little more information than that to guide our decision as to whether or not to turn to the first page – particularly with a newly released work. We can investigate further if we so choose, but in doing so, we risk having our minds made up before the first word is read.

So we leap. Usually, we have a perfectly pleasant experience. Occasionally, w
Shannon Kirk
Sep 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book. Oh this book. This book forces me to reevaluate my top 5 books of all time. Perhaps reevaluate life. Do I displace Love in the Time of Cholera from the #1 spot? No, I can't do that. Do I move Orphan Master's Son down to the #3 spot? Aghhh. I can't do that. But this book. It is just downright outright flat-out absolute pure-grade genius. How did she do this? How did Barker pull all this together? I am in awe. The history lessons, the grand scope of political atrocities. The true power ...more
May 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was one heck of a ride. Fascinating and captivating, the story Susan Barker tells weaves together a modern-day story of a taxi driver in 2008 in Beijing as the city prepares for the Olympics (a detail that turns out not to be that important), with the stories of his previous lives spanning 1,000 years of Chinese history. The stories of these incarnations are told through a series of anonymous letters that Driver Wang receives. The story follows Wang's quest to find the letters' author. ...more
Rebecca Rouillard
The Incarnations is set in Beijing in the lead up to the 2008 Olympics and Taxi Driver Wang is being stalked by an anonymous letter-writer who claims that they are reincarnated soul mates. As Wang's personal life starts to unravel he recalls some difficult relationships in his own past and the letter writer sends him stories of their relationship in each of their prior incarnations. It sounds like quite a sentimental idea but this is not a rose-tinted story - themes of betrayal, mutilation and d ...more
Superb storytelling about the entwined lives of Chinese people over hundreds of years. I would read a sequel, too.
Nov 24, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
*Mild spoilers maybe?*

So I don't normally write reviews for books but I felt compelled to review this book. I am a college student majoring in history with a keen interest in Asian history. I'm also a big fan of sci-fi, fantasy, time travel, mysteries, etc. so this seemed right up my alley. I will say that I read this book extremely fast. I'm a big fan of books that keep you guessing and trying to figure out the twist. That being said by the end of the book I was sorely disappointed. It seems th
Aug 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a remarkable book, with a cast of characters that gyrate through history with mysterious attraction and force. Susan Barker's research, pacing, sense of time, place, and detail are all on display here to make this a fantastic and compulsive read. This is a book that makes the reader reluctant to close at night and madly plan to continue reading the next day. Fortunately, the pleasure of reading this book was extended since I had few opportunities to read this in large chunks, and this ga ...more
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2021 Reading Chal...: This topic has been closed to new comments. The Incarnations 20 200 May 30, 2018 08:17PM  
Has anyone read this yet? Too gory and violent? or worth it? 13 74 Aug 23, 2016 04:52PM  

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Susan Barker (born 1978) is a British novelist. She has an English father and a Chinese-Malaysian mother and grew up in East London. She is the author of the novel Sayonara Bar, which Time magazine called "a cocktail of astringent cultural observations, genres stirred and shaken, subplots served with a twist" and The Orientalist and the Ghost, both published by Doubleday (UK) and longlisted for th ...more

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“No matter how dilapidated, scarred and mutilated your body, I have always found you beautiful, for it is the soul beneath I seek.” 12 likes
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