“Conversations with His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama are strange for a Westerner who does not believe in reincarnation. He points out such linkages, nodding his head with pity at how human behaviours continue to spin the web of lives, one after the other, through connections – actions, motivations, associations in past lives – that are impossible for most of us to see. For the Dalai Lama, this is a story of a connection, as he defined it, between two humans, played out over a thousand years, demonstrating a mixture of the divine and the human as manifested in corporeal lives.”
Can you imagine any story more dramatic than that? The relationship between two people playing out, not over a single lifetime, but over more than one. Past history and past emotions intervening in the dynamic of present relationships, changing the way we view one another, adding a layer of richness to our experience. I’ve been reading about that kind of relationship over multiple lifetimes in The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama, and it has inspired me to create a booklist of stories that explore past-life relationships in fiction. Thus I give you . . .
The Drama of Reincarnation
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein – The story of a highly intelligent and educated dog named Enzo, who reflects on his life and his relationship with his racecar-driving human companion, Denny. As he prepares to leave this life, Enzo hopes he can become human in his next incarnation.
Audrey Rose by Frank de Felitta – A bereaved father comes to believe that his little girl, killed in a horrible car accident, has been reincarnated into another child, one who seems to remember the torment and pain that ended her prior incarnation. Later adapted into a 1977 film.
Avalon High by Meg Cabot – The relationships between teenagers at a seemingly average high school come into sharp focus when Ellie begins to discover that she and her classmates are reincarnations of characters from the legend of King Arthur. YA
A Dog‘s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron – Over several lifetimes, Bailey tries to discover the reason behind his lives and loves as a dog.
Eternal by Craig Russell – A Jan Fabel detective story, in which Fabel and his team pursue a serial killer who believes he is taking revenge on those who wronged him in a past life.
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson – The arrogant and cynical narrator plans to kill himself after he is disfigured in a horrible car accident . . . until a mysterious woman enters his life, claiming they were lovers in a past life in medieval Germany. Through her, the nameless narrator begins to question his understanding of reality and even to entertain the possibility of redemption.
The Hypnotist by M. J. Rose – When FBI agent Lucian Glass visits a hypnotist as part of an investigation, he learns about past incarnations in Greece and Persia, which just might be related to his current investigation and also to the unsolved case that haunts him to this day.
My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares – In their first incarnation together, Daniel loved Sophia deeply and hurt her deeply. Now, in each successive life, he searches for her and tries to make amends however he can, even when that means he must not be her lover this time around.
Red Earth and Pouring Rain by Vikram Chandra – A seventeenth-century poet-adventurer returns as a monkey, shot by vacationing student Abhay, who strikes a bargain with the gods: he will entertain Abhay and his family with stories from his rich past-life history.
Reincarnation by Suzanne Weyn – Over the history of the human race – in ancient Egypt and Greece, witch-hunt Salem, the American Civil War, Nazi-occupied Paris, 1960s Mississippi, and modern New York – two lovers meet over and over in different incarnations. YA
The Reincarnationist by M. J. Rose – A modern photojournalist remembers a life as a pagan priest in ancient Rome after he almost dies in a terrorist attack. As these memories surface, he begins to sense that a collection of modern-day murders might be related to a relic from his ancient past.
Replay by Ken Grimwood – An award-winning work of fiction in which, after dying of heart failure in 1988, Jeff Winston returns to a point in his life decades earlier to relive the past. He learns he cannot change the time and date of his death, but he can make other changes in the course of his life.
Sengoku Nights by Kei Kusunoki & Kaoru Ohashi – Masayoshi, a Japanese teen, learns that he lived a past life as a legendary witch. As he tries to come to terms with this knowledge, he finds he must also face the restless spirits of men he murdered in his prior incarnation. MA
The Star Rover by Jack London (also published as The Jacket in the U.K.) – Imprisoned for murder, Darrell withstands his guards’ torture by learning to enter a trance in which he roams amidst the stars and discovers the stories of his previous lives.
Yes, My Darling Daughter by Margaret Leroy – Single mom Grace searches for answers when her daughter Sylvie starts acting out in bizarre ways. She manages to trace the child’s troubling behaviour to past-life memories with the help of a professor who studies the paranormal.
MA = manga & anime.
YA = written with Young Adult readers in mind.