A Son of the Circus

A Son of the Circus

3.9 28
by John Irving

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Born a Parsi in Bombay, sent to university and medical school in Vienna, Dr. Farrokh Daruwalla is a 59-year-old orthopedic surgeon and a Canadian citizen who lives in Toronto. Periodically, the doctor returns to Bombay, where most of his patients are crippled children. Once, 20 years ago, Dr. Daruwalla was the examining physician of two murder victims in Goa. Now, 20…  See more details below


Born a Parsi in Bombay, sent to university and medical school in Vienna, Dr. Farrokh Daruwalla is a 59-year-old orthopedic surgeon and a Canadian citizen who lives in Toronto. Periodically, the doctor returns to Bombay, where most of his patients are crippled children. Once, 20 years ago, Dr. Daruwalla was the examining physician of two murder victims in Goa. Now, 20 years later, he will be reacquainted with the murderer.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Though there are flashes here of the dramatic verve of The World According to Garp and Cider House Rules , Irving's long-awaited eighth novel is generally a tedious affair: rambling; lacking suspense; devoid of energetic or lyric prose; sometimes verging on farce and other times almost as lethargic as the sultry atmosphere of Bombay, where it is set. Here Irving is concerned again with people who do not feel at home in the world: immigrants, social outcasts, pariahs because of physical handicaps, those uncomfortable with their sexual orientation. The characters include a Bombay-born physician and secret screenwriter who feels as much a foreigner in India as he does in his new home, Toronto; a movie star who is synonymous with the role he plays; his twin brother, who aspires to be a priest but doubts his vocation; assorted circus performers, dwarfs and cripples, prostitutes, transsexuals, policemen, Hollywood figures, a blonde American hippie, Jesuit missionaries and more sad folk teeming with strange quirks and shameful secrets. The plot revolves around the murders of prostitutes by a transsexual serial killer, who carves a winking elephant on their bodies, and the legacies from the past that bring the main characters to the hunt for the murderer. The hefty narrative gives Irving plenty of room to speculate on outcasts of all kinds, the volatility of sexual identity, the false lure of organized religion, the insidious evil of class distinctions, the chasm between appearance and reality. For those looking for his trademark leitmotifs, Irving provides two: falling into the net and allowed to use the lift . He titillates by equipping a character with a giant dildo. He includes a strange homage to novelist James Salter. His attempt to provoke readers into empathy for humanity's lost souls is admirable, but his novel does not engage the reader until the last hundred pages, and that may not be soon enough to satisfy those yearning for a seductive story. (Sept.)
Library Journal
A circus displays oddity and spectacle for our amusement. Irving wields his absurdist ideas, set forth in works like A Prayer for Owen Meany (LJ 3/15/89), to create a world with much the same feel. The setting is India, though there is little sense of locale (a circus being universal and transportable). At center stage is Farrokh Daruwalla, an alienated, middle-aged, Bombay-born doctor who returns to his birthplace to study circus dwarfs. Farrokh becomes entangled in a case involving a serial murderer who carves the image of a winking elephant on his victims' torsos. This storyline bounces around like the proverbial three-ring circus and features a cast of eunuchs, hippies, movie stars, transsexuals, and clergymen. Irving continues his obsession with potency (erections) and negation (mutilation and self-mutilation) using, for instance, a large hollow dildo as a central prop. This otherwise enjoyable read is hindered at times by a lethargic pace and lack of dramatic tension. Although not Irving's best, this long-awaited novel will be in high demand. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/94.]-David Nudo, "Library Journal"
Donna Seaman
Irving's eighth novel is a feast. Picking up stylistically where "A Prayer for Owen Meany" (1989) left off, Irving has perfected his impressive narrative skills and launched into unexpected territory: a murder mystery rife with antic sexuality and set in the seething city of Bombay, home of India's film industry (Bollywood), hoards of street urchins and prostitutes, and the last tattered remnants of British colonialism. Irving achieves an almost Dickensian richness with his cast of vivid and eccentric characters, loopy yet converging plot lines, moral underpinning, and predicaments both hilarious and wrenching. Dr. Farrokh Daruwalla, a dreamy fellow at home neither in his native city of Bombay, nor his adopted domicile, Toronto, is at the heart of this dynamic universe. When in Bombay, Daruwalla indulges his peculiar passions for collecting blood from dwarfs (to study their genes) and for going to the circus. When he isn't occupied with these amusements or practicing medicine, the good but distracted doctor is busy writing the screenplays for an egregious yet wildly popular series of films featuring the hero Bombay loves to hate, the sneering Inspector Dhar. The enigmatic star of these provoking movies is a magnet for trouble in the form of a dangerous admirer who has transformed himself from a boy into what passes as a woman. Dhar's life is further complicated by the arrival of his heretofore unknown identical twin. Irving's nimble humor springs from compassionate insights into cultural and sexual confusion and alienation, baffling questions of faith and purpose, and the kind of hope that thrives in even the most jaded atmosphere.
From the Publisher

“The novel may not be ‘about’ India, but Irving’s imagined India, which Daruwalla visits periodically, is a remarkable achievement—a pandemonium of servants and clubmen, dwarf clowns and transvestite whores, missionaries and movie stars. This is a land of energetic colliding egos, of modern media clashing with ancient cultures, of broken sexual boundaries.” New York Newsday

"A comical, contemplative thriller as richly woven as the finest of Indian carpets.... [The] novel to beat for the year's most rewarding read." The Toronto Star

"His most daring and most vibrant novel.... The story of circus-as-India is told with gusto and delightful irreverence." The Washington Post Book World

"Startling, haunting, flawless, unforgettable." The Edmonton Journal

"Breathtaking.... An epic tale of deception, murder, obsession and sexual confusion, Irving introduces some of his most memorable characters since Garp." The Winnipeg Free Press

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Random House Publishing Group
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Robert Towers
[Irving's] most entertaining novel since Garp -- The New York Times

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A Son of the Circus 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
Arthur Banach More than 1 year ago
if you enjoyed A prayer for Owen Meany then this is the book for you
GingerSaiyan More than 1 year ago
Dr. Farrokh Daruwalla, an Indian orthopedic surgeon living in Canada, sporadically returns to his native country in order to revisit the circus. Even though he was born in India, he just doesn't feel at home there. He is constantly discriminated against because of his skin color, and the only place he enjoys being at is the circus. On one of his trips back to India, he becomes involved in the investigation concerning a serial killer. The killer's M.O. is the same as two bodies Farrokh had inspected years earlier and he is immersed in the search for answers. However, the killer may be closer to him than he realizes. John Irving has a unique way of explaining his story plot. He begins his book by diving directly into the story. As he progresses, chapters are set aside that are set in the past in order to explain the events that Irving has unfolded. As he explains a certain key point in the plot, the next chapter goes in depth on the specific aspects of that scene in order to provide insightful information to the setting. While the novel may be confusing at times, it is easier to understand later once the explanation has been read. A Son of the Circus almost seems to be written out of order in the way the story seems to jump around. However, as the plot is revealed, it is easier to become familiar with the format and adjust accordingly. By writing in this fashion, Irving is able to relay the story without giving away any spoilers. In doing so, the novel is able to be read in a different style and is viewed in a different light. John Irving writes with a care free style while, at the same time, providing a more mature way of seeing the world. He emphasizes the harshness of living and the hardships people of different cultures experience. Racism, sexism, and many other types of discrimination are displayed in his novel. Irving provides countless examples of the difficulties of being different and shows how to become a better person. By providing an array of characters from cripples to prostitutes, Irving is able to capture the true nature of humanity to its core. A Son of the Circus is directed at adults or young adults and can be somewhat crude in its style of writing. This actually adds to the reality of the storyline and provides an interesting new view on reading. By including vulgar comments and scenes, Irving is able to display the harsh setting people in the slums of Bombay experience. In effect, Irving shows the soft spots of society by emphasizing the rough spots. Irving's writing style is completely his own and is able to portray the very essence of the picture he is trying to create.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Kindof disappointing actually. John Irving says he has never been to Bombay..I guess that's why he did such a pathetic job of describing it. The storyline was quite intriguing really, though the overall effect was spoilt thanks to his totally inaccurate descriptions of Bbay. Don't get me wrong...the plot, characters et all are well-described in Irving's wonderful style. But if you're an Indian who knows the real Bombay, then you probably won't enjoy this so much..but otherwise...its worth a read, at least for Irving fans.
Guest More than 1 year ago
John Irving is like a circus juggler balancing plates in the air while riding a unicycle on a tightrope. This novel (one of my all-time favorites) contains no less than 4 distinct interdependent subplots. He clearly loves his protagonist, the mild-mannered Farrokh. Dhar is an intriguing and impenetrable sex symbol. Nancy is a tragic heroine, with Vijay Patel her rock-like savior. The trick to enjoying this novel is staying in it--not pulling back to ask 'What is going on here?' The author weaves in and out among his characters and their situations, and expertly links present and past. I think the reason this book succeeds so well is that it reflects reality. We are all products of the past working unseen in the background of the present. Too bad there's so much unrest in India these days--the descriptions of Bombay make one thirst to visit. This is one novel that could never be made into a movie.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Being a John Irving fan may help as one wades through this 600+ page book. I found it an interesting glimps inside India and was never bored and often surprised. The only fault I could find was a rather unsatisfying 'wrap up' of an ending.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bombay provides an ideal setting for Irving's usual cast of misfits. Although the author professes to know little about India, he does a marvelous job of describing Bombay, from the smell of the slums to the British colonial remnants. While Son of the Circus is not as touching as some of his other novels, I found it thoroughly enjoyable and hilarious.
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MickiBrose More than 1 year ago
I love John Irving and have read all of his books. That being said, this was a little hard to get into as the subject matter was so foreign. I really did not like any of the characters until the introduction of Martin Mills. When he came on the scene John Irving was in his element and at his best. I loved the building of this character. But the story kept dragging. The Epilogue was the best part. If you are an Irving fan, I would still recommend this book.
maxiann More than 1 year ago
This book is as great as "The World According to Garp" or "A Prayer for Owen Meany." Since it is one of my favorites, I put a copy on my Nook because it's much easier to read thick books from the Noon than having it propped on your stomach! As with all of John Irving's books, the story is captivating. Read it!
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