the incarnations barker

The Incarnations by Susan Barker

The Incarnations by Susan BarkerThe Incarnations by Susan Barker
Published by Touchstone on August 18th 2015
Source: Publisher
Pages: 384
Buy from IndieBound


When Wang, a Beijing taxi driver, opens the visor in his cab, he stumbles upon a mysterious letter addressed to him from someone claiming to be his soulmate. Over the next several weeks, more letters pour in, detailing the many lives he shared with his soulmate: a starving slave fleeing the Mongols, one of many imperial concubines, a trader tied up in the Opium Wars. Though Wang doubts the authenticity of the letters, he can’t help but feel increasing paranoia over the sense that he is being watched and followed.

With comparisons to Midnight’s Children and David Mitchell, I went into The Incarnations with high expectations for an intricate, deeply developed story that may not have been fair. The concept is certainly intriguing, as it blends the past and present with an underlying mystery. Unfortunately, that mystery—the unknown author of the letters—doesn’t dig quite as deep as I had hoped, and feels much more like a simple alternating narrative than a tangled tale across time.

Early on, I noticed an odd, slightly rigid feel in the novel’s writing. It was difficult to place, but so many sentences lacked fluidity. By the time I finished, I realized the book felt like it had been translated—with that unmistakable sense of misplaced words, but used as a stylistic choice that didn’t quite work. Though Susan Barker is clearly talented, The Incarnations fell a few steps short in executing her strong, visionary idea.

  • Big bummer here, because the premise sounded so promising. It’s hard not to go in with high expectations when you have book/author comparisons like that!

    • It really did have a great premise and there were parts I loved (some of the flashbacks were great) that had me hanging on.

  • I’d had my eye on this one until I saw Katie (I think it was her?) put it down…sorry it didn’t live up to expectations for you. But, glad to know I don’t have to grow my TBR by yet another book!!

    • I probably should have set it aside, too, but there were so many glimmers of hope…I wish it came together a little better.

  • I too went into this pretty pumped, and it totally didn’t live up. I found myself avoiding reading all together because I just wasn’t digging it. It wasn’t terrible or anything, just not very good either….

  • Aw, too bad. I had my eye a little bit on this book while also not being sure if it was a good fit for me. Might return it to the library without reading it (as we have already established I am v. prone to doing). :p

    • I think if you’re interested in it as historical fiction it would be worth reading, but if you were hoping for more of a mind-bender it’s probably best to skip.

  • This sounds like a book with a lot of potential that doesn’t quite come together. The letters seem like they would make for some interesting reading, but I’d definitely want a satisfying explanation.

    • Yeah, it just didn’t quite live up to what I was hoping for. I’d definitely like to see what she comes up with next, though.

  • Amanda

    I’m such a sucker for a cover and between that and the synopsis I was sure this would be amazing. Kind of a bummer!