Professional arsonist Evan Michaels remembers all of his past lives. Now, he has the chance to enter a rare society of immortals in The Reincarnationist Papers.
Lonely and isolated, Evan lives out of a seedy motel working as an arsonist-for-hire. He has contemplated suicide, but knows it is pointless because he will just come back to life again: He was a Bulgarian farmer who fought in WWI, and a six-year-old boy in Georgia, where he developed his fascination with fire. Evan thinks he is alone in the world until he meets the beautiful, mysterious Poppy, who has a taste for heroin and creative sexual encounters. Poppy recognizes that Evan is a reincarnationist like herself and offers to be his advocate and help Evan join the Cognomina, a secretive association of reincarnationists. But Evan must first pass an exhaustive interview process to authenticate his past lives. Whisked away to Zurich, Evan meets others like himself and becomes enamored with their lavish, deviant, “epicurean” lifestyle. When the wealthy Samas offers Evan millions to steal a portrait for him, Evan leaps at the chance.
Conceptually, The Reincarnationist Papers shines. Maikranz incorporates a wealth of historical detail into the past life stories of the characters. The reader travels in time from Coronado’s expedition to the New World to the era of Louis XIV and beyond. Maikranz successfully brings less-familiar historical periods to life for the reader. Maikranz also takes a compelling, in-depth look at the cultural beliefs surrounding transmigration. These aspects of the novel are great.
Connecting with the characters, however, is a sticking point. It is hard to feel much for the reincarnationists. Maikranz intimates that we should pity them, trapped in their endless existences, but that is challenging, because they are, overall, rich, selfish, hedonistic snobs. Evan actually rejects the one character who lives a simple life, convinced he is mad for living in such—to Evan—discomfort.
The reincarnationists offer a well-argued case that religion is pointless—simply a big hoax perpetrated on mankind that forces people into living unnaturally restrained lives. The reincarnationists know this because they have experienced nothing after death except rebirth into another body. They would agree with Karl Marx that “religion…is the opiate of the masses,” but they prefer their opium straight up for personal painkilling purposes. This nihilist perspective could be a bit off-putting for some readers.
The Reincarnationist Papers offers a fascinating look at history and a provocative philosophical exploration of reincarnation. Personally, I had difficulty making character connections. Full disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.