6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 12 October 2014
The Incarnations is a narrative woven from the strands of the life of Wang, a taxi-driver living in Beijing and his past lives. Wang's life is in 2008, around the time of the final preparations for the Olympic games but we also learn a lot about his earlier life and the lives he has lived before.
Depending upon your beliefs, the idea of reincarnation is either a pleasant fantasy or something more profound. In the context of the novel it serves different purposes. The lives he has lived before seemingly run parallel with the events portrayed from his younger life. They also seem to work to explore the psyche of historical and modern China. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on modern or historical China, but Barker does seem to be working to describe the attempts of China to re-find its place in the world through understanding its long history while always moving forward.
A lot of this is hard going. There's a lot of violence and, depending upon how you read this, we are seeing Wang's neurosis writ large. Barker is a skilful writer, though. Most of it is well-written without reading like a project for a creative writing class.
The different threads are all pulled together neatly and the end though not obvious doesn't come as a surprise; I appreciate that.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 6 August 2014
Gripping, riveting but ultimately depressing read in its unmitigating cruelty. Regime after regime, character after character suffers, are betrayed or betray others. As a portrait of mans' cruelty it is certainly powerful and skilfully, imaginatively written. I was totally immersed but overwhelmed with a surfeit of violence and longed for a glimmer of hope at the end, but it seems the cycles of loss, isolation and inhumanity are doomed to be repeated ad infinitum.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 24 August 2015
Taxi-driver Wang Jun is 31-years-old, care worn, living in a cramped one bedroom flat with his wife Yida and young daughter Echo. He is shocked when an envelope falls out from behind the visor of his cab. It is the start of correspondence from someone claiming to be his soulmate. Someone who goes on to describe in great detail the incarnations or re-births they have shared since the early days of Chinese history.
Wang Jun thinks that someone is playing very nasty tricks and trying to mess with his mind and desperately tries to discover who the person could be. He starts re-visiting people from his earlier life and thinks it must be his friend Zeng Yan, whom he met while in a psychiatric hospital, but Zeng Yan denies it. But still the letters keep coming, each one dealing with another shared lifetime.
This book manages to cover some of China’s history through shared lives. In some of the incarnations, they are father and daughter, in others they are sworn enemies, sometimes they are concubines serving a reigning dynasty. Whatever their shared lives are, they are a reflection of the history of China as the book travels through the centuries up to the present day.
This is not a quick read. You will need time to sit and enjoy the vast descriptions of the times, savouring the history that makes China what it is today. Some scenes are brutal, a mother cutting a son to make him into a eunuch, or one that really disturbed me, cleaning a toilet with a toothbrush under Mao Zedong’s rule. Whatever the story, you will find them rich and full of description.
Susan Barker’s knowledge of Chinese history shines through in this epic tale. This book will help you follow how China has evolved over centuries, each one with the particular brutality of the day.--Treebeard
Rating: Five Stars.
bestsellingcrimethrillers.com was provided with a copy for review.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Oh Wow!! 'The Incarnations' by Susan Barker is a story that spans time, weaving through countless lives lived by Wang, a taxi driver in Beijing in 2008. What lives he has lived!! We go back over a thousand years, through wars, sorcery, madness, love, treachery, betrayal, power, passion, lust, and every emotion known to man! We see how Wang has evolved over the centuries, the lessons that he has learned, and the truths that have been revealed to him. We also see the mistakes made, obsessions that have taken root in his psyche, demons that have not been exorcised by time. This is a harsh, brutal, violent glimpse into re-incarnation, full of murder, sex, intrigue, lies, deceit, and I found it to be utterly compelling. It is so hard to put into words the way that this book impacted upon me - I was just unable to stop reading it! It has shock factor, it has cruelty, it has adventure and misadventure in abundance. It has everything, and kept me fascinated until the very end. I won't say that it is enjoyable - that is not the right word to describe this book - but it is compulsive reading, and brilliant writing, in my opinion. It is beautifully descriptive, so intelligently plotted, and is a story to ponder over - it definitely made me think, and could lead to some fascinating discussion I feel. Highly recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I can honestly say of this book that from page to page one never knows what is going to happen next. There's plenty of sex and violence, and, especially interesting for me, details of Chinese history. I found it a gripping read, even though most of the characters are quite horrible and the situations unbelievable. Susan Barker writes beautifully, evoking each scene to all the senses whist keeping the story rolling along. Reading this book is a bit like sitting round a camp fire listening to spooky stories. A good book for a winter read.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
It's a long time since I was so immersed in a book. The way in which the unexpected story unfurls - robustly, as a ship's sails in a high wind - is absolutely entrancing. The novel requires Barker to create environments and dialogue from wildly diverse eras - AD632 to 2008 - and yet she makes it seem effortless; an anticipated hard slog through ancient China is a light dance.
The central characters are subject to (and executors of) some pretty brutal treatment, but Barker stays on the right side of indulgent in her descriptions, and the appalling facts are rendered in a way I can only describe as hard-as-nails. The most explicit example of this would be the prostitute who accepts brutal treatment in exchange for a favour.
The confidence and poise of the writing are one of its major strengths - it could have been twice as long and just as palatable.
Susan Barker was born in 1978 and grew up in East London. “The Incarnations” is her third book and is set in China – though the story takes in many different times and places. Barker spent several years living in Beijing, carry out detailed research for the book.
It's 2008 : the Beijing Olympics are approaching and Wang Jun earns a living in the city as a taxi driver. He is married to Yida – the wedding came after a whirlwind six-week romance - and the couple have a daughter called Echo. Wang loves both his wife and daughter dearly, although things haven't worked out exactly as the couple would have hoped. Wang is also something of a disappointment to his father, who'd once been a well-paid and influential Party official. The pair hadn't had much of a relationship, until Wang Pere had a stroke. The relationship hasn't exactly improved, though our poor hero does try to visit a little more often these days. (Wang, unfortunately, isn't keen on his stepmother either - and the antipathy is entirely mutual. Wang's mother had died when he was twelve. He'd been packed off to boarding school by his father, and was only told about it three days after the funeral).
Unfortunately, Wang's everyday problems are about to fade into the background. He's about to receive a series of letters from someone claiming to be his soulmate. Each letter will receive the details of their previous lives together – lives that have taken in a Sorceress, Emperors, eunuchs, concubines and prostitutes, the Opium Wars, the Cultural Revolution and a Mongol Invasion. Worryingly, each previous life seems to have ended very badly between the soulmates...
I enjoyed “The Incarnations” a great deal. The book alternates between Wang and his Soulmate. Wang's story is told in the third person - “When he reaches Qianmen, Wang has had enough of walking” - but his letter-writing stalker tells his or her own story. (“As biographer of our past lives, I recount the ways we have known each other”). The mystery the letter-writer's identity was, for me, one of the more appealing elements of the book; we only find out who it is towards the very end. The historical aspect to the pair's past lives was also very interesting. I have to say, though, it probably wouldn't be to everyone's tastes. (There is a certain amount of sex in it, and not all of it's restricted to the concubines and prostitutes. It possibly wouldn't make a good gift for the innocent or the devout).
The Incarnations is quite an eclectic book drawn, as it is, from various periods in China's history ranging from seventh century Imperial China right up to the relatively recent Cultural Revolution in the 1960s under the auspices of Mao Zedong. In a setting just before the Beijing Olympics, the main protagonist is taxi driver Wang, married with a young daughter who is exceedingly sceptical when someone apparently unknown to him gradually reveals his previous incarnations. Naturally the incarnations are colourful and usually violent - it would not make much of a story if he had previously been a simple, toiling peasant who died in his bed!
Somewhat against the odds I thought this mix worked rather well. The author is a good story teller and is able to set her scenes quickly and effectively. Of course the reader either has to believe in reincarnation or be able to suspend disbelief from the word go. However the latter would apply to many books and that does not make them any the less enjoyable. There are the odd moments of humour too - one that sticks in my mind was when it was revealed that Wang's wife, Yodi, was initially incarnated as a dog flea and then, clearly on a progression, became a tapeworm in the gut of a cow. Not much sympathetic treatment from the author there!
Overall I found this to be an enjoyable book which moves seamlessly between different time periods and which has clearly been well researched.
I'm not sure what to make of this one. I liked it but it wasn't an enjoyable read. It's grim and bleak and quite violent in places but it's not without moments of light and humour, albeit not very many of the latter.
It's brilliantly plotted and the lady can definitely write but perhaps I just wasn't in the right frame of mind to truly appreciate it all. It was quite a slow start for me and I worried that it was going to be a chore to get through, given it's length, it but it did quickly pick up the pace and delivered a really interesting story. The Chinese History is well researched and I learned some things along the way but ultimately it was just too dark for me.
Having said all that though, I'm glad I read it. I may even go back for a re-read at some point.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
For ten years a taxi driver in Beijing, Wang Jun suddenly discovers he has a stalker - an alleged soul mate declaring they have shared several previous lives. Graphic descriptions follow of what both endured during various dynasties, their deaths always dramatic.
Writing of a high order evocatively depicts past and present, attention to detail a particular strength. The start was enjoyed, especially the finely observed account of Wang's experiences as a taxi driver, so much of life to be found in the passenger seats. The wry humour so evident here is sadly absent from what follows. Wang is destined to suffer, his mind increasingly in turmoil, he long overdue for happiness. I also felt sorry for gay barber Zeng, always forgiving no matter how often rejected.
Although held engrossed throughout, I found the steady accumulation of misery a bit much. The Cultural Revolution sequences especially chilled - as, of course, was intended.
An ambitious work with much to offer. Some may regret that at no time is China depicted in ways that endear. Even when presenting a fine facade with the 2008 Olympics coming up, the reality is decidedly grim. Or so is suggested.
Quality fare, but demanding and downbeat.
(Four stars, but more admired than liked.)