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review 2015-12-12 14:06
The Incarnations: A Novel - Susan Barker

I had been anticipating/avoiding this book because I've heard some really great things about it, but I had been somewhat reluctant after hearing that it was quite violent. Violence in itself doesn't bother me, but lately I just haven't been in the mood for reading super graphic stuff. However, I found I had nothing to fear here.


The book is an interesting one in terms of structure. We follow Wang, a taxi driver as he follows his route in Beijing not long before the 2007 Olympics. He is married with one daughter and is mostly concerned with his wife and daughter and going about to his day to day business. Until one day, letters are left behind in his cab. Letters that describe stories...(are they?) of various points of Chinese history, filled with physical, emotional, sexual violence, forbidden loves and the struggle to survive.


What are these letters? Who are they really for? Why does Wang feel his family is being watched? WHAT IS GOING ON?


I don't want to write more since that might give it away, but I thought this was a great book. I didn't quite "enjoy" it but it was well-written (despite me reading an ARC) and I did learn a bit about Chinese history. Sometimes there is a bit too much detail for me (and I think the author did take some liberties occasionally) and I skimmed here and there. But overall learning about these various time periods, folklore, customs, etc. was all fascinating and it's quite clear the author has done her research.


Normally I hate it when the book alternates views, but here it worked. The letters are short stories in and of themselves and we always eventually return to Wang's story. The characters are also mostly well-written enough to be distinct from one another, but I'll admit that sometimes I was confused as to who was supposed to be who in the letters. Another detriment is that it appears the plot is "stuck" in a cycle of sorts. Again, don't want to get more into it because that would give it away, but when I put the book down I became confused because it appears there's no getting out of it and I'm not entirely sure if there is something the reader is supposed to derive from that.


But it was a great read and I'm glad I read it. It's not super long but with such detail I somewhat wished I had saved this for an airplane read instead. And as I mentioned, there is violence in various forms: physical, emotional, sexual. It's mostly not described in great detail (the section with the emperor and the concubines was a bit detailed though), but it's prolific throughout the book that it's difficult to avoid in either story lines that's set in the relative present or the past. It includes scenes of torture, murder, rape, a castration, eating dead people/animals, etc. The book is not a happy one and there were those who complained about this but I think the author had a point in focusing in perhaps the darker aspects.


I would recommend it. I'm not sure if I'm interested in her other, previously published works but I'm definitely keeping an eye out for her next book.

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review 2015-11-08 17:04
The Incarnations by Susan Barker
The Incarnations: A Novel - Susan Barker

It's difficult to me to really say I enjoyed this book when it deals with a lot of horrendous issues. Rape, domestic violence, drugs, etc. are just among the few. However, the way Susan Barker handles these issues is done brilliantly well! She is such a fantastic writer. She was able to write in a very unabashed manner that literally churn your stomach during certain scenes throughout the book. But that's what I liked about her writing. These things that people go through happen all the time and it would be a shame to censor oneself to these atrocities. You should educate yourself to these crimes... even if they are quite grotesque.


The story itself is brilliant! To see the lives of these characters reincarnated over and over, seeing the literal hell they had to deal with in each lifetime, and the pain it causes... it was hard to read... but important to read. I won't say anything more because you just have to read it for yourself.


I don't think this book if for everyone. As I've said previously, it is a very difficult book to read. However, I will encourage you to pick it up if you are curious and willing to learn and go through what these characters go through. It's a ride that will leave you sick and with scars, but I think it's worth it.

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review 2015-10-13 00:00
The Incarnations: A Novel
The Incarnations: A Novel - Susan Barker There's a lot that goes on in this book. For me, the (re)incarnation parts of the story took a slightly lesser significance than the different account of the life of the characters in different historical eras in China. Perhaps, in part, the breaking up of the book into 'sub-plots' detracted a little from the flow of the main storyline -- at least for me, in some parts. Nonetheless, I learned quite a bit about the cultural and complex hierarchy of life in ancient China.
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review 2015-10-03 15:59
The Incarnations: A Novel - Susan Barker

I enjoyed the concept and stories in Ms. Barker's 'The Incarnations'.  While I did not like any of the characters in the novel I did care about Driver Wu, his wife and child.


The book reminded me of a large part of David Mitchell's 'Ghostwritten' and I like the freedom incarnations give to an author and what can be done with the storytelling.


Be aware, this novel contains adult themes.

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review 2015-08-05 01:28
The Incarnations: A Novel - Susan Barker

The Incarnations

Susan Barker

Hardcover, 384 pages

Expected publication: August 18th 2015 by Touchstone (first published July 3rd 2014

ISBN 1501106783 (ISBN13: 9781501106781)                 


I found the plot of this novel haunting as it follows the main character, Wang Yu, as he receives 5 letters that pertain to his past incarnations that span 1000 years. Susan Barker writes confidently, and the research of Chinese History shows in the telling of this story. There were times when, during the present, I thought it a little slow, but I was really interested in the past lives and the history. I would definitely read more of Susan Barker's work.

****this ARC was received from the publisher, Simon and Schuster, in exchange for a fair review.****

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