Source: ARC from Netgalley
Published by: Doubleday
Released: 3rd July 2014
Buy it from: Hive
In a nutshell: The Incarnations is…
What the conflict and frustration of Look Back In Anger might look like if it were set in a world that began with modern day China and reached back through the centuries.
Wang Chun, an aging Chinese taxi driver living a monotonous, grinding existence, begins to receive a series of anonymous letters. The letters claim that he is reincarnated; that he’s lived many lives all linked to the mysterious letter writer. Who also claims to have a link to him in his current life. Who’s writing the letters? Is what they’re saying true? And if it is, what does it mean for Wang Chun?
My mind expands into the room. My subconscious laps at the walls, rising like the tide. I am drowning in our past lives. But until they have been recorded, they won’t recede.
This book is gut-wrenchingly traumatic, but completely brilliant.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on China, or Chinese literature, but the style and flow of writing feels authentic. The language shares some of the characteristics of other books I’ve read by authors like Amy Tan, Xinran and Nien Cheng. What I mean by that, is that the phrasing, the way things are described… it feels like it’s being mulled over, that the ideas are still somewhat mutable as they’re being written down.
The story itself is very graphic – especially in the ‘flashback’ parts when Wang Chun is reading the letters he’s been sent. There’s a lot of violence, some of which is sexual. So if you’re sensitive to this sort of content, do read with caution. However, it doesn’t feel gratuitous and it’s not lingered over in uncomfortable detail, like Pillars of the Earth. Rather, it seems to underline the pessimistic realism of Wang Chun’s circumstances.
On the face of it, Wang Chun is not the most likeable protagonist. He’s cowardly, unambitious and seems to be one of those people who waits for life to happen to him, rather than seeking to influence circumstances to suit his own desires. And yet, as the book progresses, you find yourself rooting for him even more. Even as you find out more about his life, his past, his flaws, it draws you in rather than turning you off. I think it’s this quality that enables the reader to survive through the more harrowing parts and stubbornly persist to the end, which…
I’m not going to give it away. You’ll have to read it to find out!
Fans of magical realism with a strong stomach. If you’re looking for a grittier read that effortlessly combines past and present in a gripping tale, then this is a great choice.