The Incarnations

A Novel

The Incarnations

New York Times Notable Book of 2015
Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction Book of 2015
Finalist for the 2015 Kirkus Prize for Fiction
Winner of a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize

Hailed by The New York Times for its “wildly ambitious...dazzling use of language” and “mesmerizing storytelling,” The Incarnations is a “brilliant, mind-expanding, and wildly original novel” (Chris Cleave) about a Beijing taxi driver whose past incarnations over one thousand years haunt him through searing letters sent by his mysterious soulmate.

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 the cultural revolution—bound to his mysterious “soulmate,” spanning one thousand years of betrayal and intrigue.

As the letters continue to appear seemingly out of thin air, Wang becomes convinced that someone is watching him—someone who claims to have known him for over one thousand years. And with each letter, Wang feels the watcher growing closer and closer…

Seamlessly weaving Chinese folklore, history, and literary classics, The Incarnations is a taut and gripping novel that sheds light on the cyclical nature of history as it hints that the past is never truly settled.
  • Touchstone | 
  • 384 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781501106781 | 
  • August 2015
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Incarnations includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Susan Barker. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.



Beijing, 2008. A mysterious letter appears in taxi driver Wang Jun’s cab. The anonymous sender claims to be Wang’s soulmate, and to have known him for over a thousand years:

I am the biographer of your past lives. For to have lived six times, but to only know your latest incarnation, is to only know one-sixth of who you are. To be only one-sixth alive.

Wang receives more letters. Each one takes him back in time: to a runaway girl searching for her long-lost father in the Tang Dynasty; to slaves fleeing through the Gobi desert after the Mongol Invasion; to concubines plotting murder in the Ming Dynasty; to an Englishman held to ransom during the Opium War; and to Red Guards rampaging through the streets of Beijing.

The letter writer also confesses to stalking Wang and his wife and child. And with each letter, Wang feels the watcher in the shadows drawing nearer.

Sweeping majestically between China’s past and present, The Incarnations&n see more

About the Author

Susan Barker
Photograph © Derek Anson

Susan Barker

Susan Barker is the author of Sayonara Bar and The Orientalist and the Ghost, both longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize. She grew up in East London with a Chinese-Malyasian mother and a British father, and studied creative writing at the University of Manchester. She spent several years living in Beijing while working on The Incarnations, and currently lives in the UK.