The Incarnations

Written by Susan Barker
Review by Hilary Daninhirsch

The Incarnations is unlike any book you are likely to read this year. And that is a good thing, because you will not soon forget this wild ride of a story-within-a-story about past lives.

It is 2008 in China, and Beijing is gearing up to host the Olympics. The protagonist, known as Driver Wang, as he is a taxi driver in the bustling city, has been finding notes in his cab, left by an anonymous passenger. The writer purports to not only know details of Wang’s current life, but of all six of his past lives. The writer of the notes claims that his/her soul and Wang’s souls have been bound together for centuries.

Rotating chapters tell the fascinating narratives of the intertwining lives of the two souls. For example, in a previous incarnation, Wang’s mysterious taxi passenger tells him that he was a concubine in the Ming Dynasty; a boy named Bitter Root, son of a sorceress, in the Tang Dynasty; and most recently, a schoolgirl during China’s Cultural Revolution in the mid-1960s. In this life, Wang, whose mother died when he was not quite a teenager, has a difficult relationship with his cruel father and scheming stepmother. And although he has a wife and child, he wrestles with residual feelings he has for Zeng, an unstable man whom he met while the two were in a psychiatric hospital years earlier.

Weaving Chinese folklore in a similar vein as Amy Tan, the author spins an enigmatic and enchanting tale that may cause the reader to wonder: how old is my soul?