The latest novel by Susan Barker, British author with a Malaysian mum, traces one forgetful soul’s fantastic journey across millennia of Chinese history.

Aptly titled The Incarnations, Barker’s novel is anchored by a story set in modern-day Beijing, where a seemingly average cab driver is tormented by anonymous letters describing his five past lives, of which he has no recollection.

The five lives span centuries, from China’s golden-age Tang Dynasty, through the brutal invasion of Genghis Khan, the court of a tyrannical and sadistic Ming Dynasty ruler, to the high-sea battlegrounds of the Opium War and the blood-splattered interrogation rooms of the Cultural Revolution.

Barker, whose father is British and mother is Malaysian Chinese, said the novel was the product of years of intensive research, mostly in the years after she moved to Beijing in 2007. She spoke about how she gave a human dimension to such a vast and sweeping topic.

Exploring the past: Novelist Susan Barker pictured with the cover of her third novel The Incarnations.