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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Product Details

Knopf Canada
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Meet the Author

JOHN IRVING was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1942. His first novel, Setting Free the Bears, was published in 1968, when he was twenty-six. He competed as a wrestler for twenty years, and coached wrestling until he was forty-seven. Mr. Irving has been nominated for a National Book Award three times—winning once, in 1980, for his novel The World According to Garp. He received an O. Henry Award in 1981 for his short story "Interior Space." In 2000, Mr. Irving won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules. In 2013, he won a Lambda Literary Award for his novel In One Person. An international writer—his novels have been translated into more than thirty-five languages—John Irving lives in Toronto. His all-time best-selling novel, in every language, is A Prayer for Owen Meany. Avenue of Mysteries is his fourteenth novel.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
March 2, 1942
Place of Birth:
Exeter, New Hampshire
B.A., University of New Hampshire, 1965; also studied at University of Vienna; M.F.A., Iowa Writers' Workshop, 1967

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