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A Son of the Circus (1994)

by John Irving

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,551382,680 (3.57)58
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.… (more)
  1. 00
    The Fourth Hand by John Irving (kpriester)
    kpriester: one of the tangents in the story continues
  2. 12
    A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (Booksloth)
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English (36)  Dutch (2)  All languages (38)
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
A Son of the Circus by John Irving (1995)
  arosoff | Jul 10, 2021 |
SPOILER WARNING

I haven't read all of Irving's work, but this is my second favorite after A Prayer for Owen Meany. As other reviewers have said, Irving's style can be a bit plodding and the apparent folding together of different time periods can leave the unprepared reader breathless. Once you get past this, though, this is a delightful read.

The main character, Dr. Farrokh Daruwalla, is an orthopedist and the anonymous screenwriter behind a series of Bollywood crime dramas (dramas with singing and dancing, of course, because Bollywood). His surname turns out to be symbolic. The word “wallah,” coming from the Hindi suffix “-vala,” indicates one who performs a specific function or, interestingly, one who is connected to a particular place. The doctor, then, as the writer of the Inspector Dhar movies, performs the service of creating and maintaining Dhar. This suffix then turns ironical, as Daruwalla has never felt at home anywhere.

Don't read this expecting a lot of circus action. That's like coming to Jurassic Park and expecting cool dinosaurs. Maybe a chapter or two is in the circus proper and that's it. The disconnect between the title and the plot, however, is part of the novel's genius. This is the second ironic twist to the doctor’s name. For when, as a screenwriter, he ventures out from the genre he is familiar with, has a difficult time settling on a title. He finally chooses Limo Roulette, which is a very small portion of the screenplay he's writing.

Dr. Daruwalla is a perfect Irving character: at home but not at home, searching for some kind of meaning. In many ways, he is like John Wheelwright, the narrator and lead in Owen Meany. As Daruwalla has also chosen Toronto for his permanent residence, there are even a couple of near-misses at creating a shared universe for the two novels. Grace Church on-the-Hill and Bishop Strachan School, both of which are connected to Wheelwright, appear briefly in the epilogue. Daruwalla is even said to have spent a considerable amount of quiet time in Grace Church; Wheelwright preferred the weekday services at the Church for their sparse and quiet attendance.

There are a significant number of similarities between Circus and Owen Meany: a main character (Daruwalla and Wheelwright) floating on the margins of Christianity; a mystical character (Martin Mills and Owen Meany) obsessed with a sense of mission that doesn’t turn out like he thought it would; a parent killed violently (Daruwalla’s father by a car bomb, Wheelwright’s mother by an errant baseball); and mysterious fathers (the twins John D. and Martin Mills and Wheelwright). There are probably some others but this is already getting longer than it needs to.

Even with these similarities, however, Owen Meany and Circus are not the same novel. This leads me to one of the many great phrases I underlined as I was reading. This is found on p 548 of the paperback: “Instead of listening to the numbers or enduring the Jesuitical provocations of Martin Mills, Farrokh chose to tell a story. Although it was a true story—and, as the doctor would soon discover, painful to tell—it suffered from the disadvantage that the storyteller had never told it before; even true stories are improved by revision.” Circus, published five years after Owen Meany, may be a revision of the former. Perhaps this question need not be answered. After all, as a minor character realizes on p 473, perhaps not everything needs to be understood in order to follow a plot. One final word: the deadnaming of the transgender character “the second Mrs. Dogar” has not aged well. However, Irving has often treated themes of gender and sexual non-conformity in his works so maybe this is yet another place where the true story has undergone revision. ( )
  mmodine | Jul 5, 2021 |
I almost bailed out after the first hundred pages of this book, and should have followed that inclination. When one keeps dozing off and dropping the book on one's foot, it's seldom a good sign.

There are, undeniably, some very funny moments here, generally based on cultural misunderstandings. The "American hippy" girl's taxicab ride into Bombay from the airport is laugh-out-loud funny, and scattered moments like this (along with Irving's gift for creating memorable characters) kept me slogging along well after any real interest in the plot fizzled out.

There's a murder mystery, and a subplot about twins separated at birth, and frequent reminders about the toilet habits of homeless people in large cities. There's a side trip through the world of "Bollywood" movies, and the existential dilemma of a man born to one culture but reared in another, who tries to maintain his balance with a foot in each.

But mostly, there are just words -- thousands of them, pouring over the defenseless reader like a tsunami. In the end, perhaps, it's best just to stay away from the literary shoreline here. ( )
  LyndaInOregon | Dec 14, 2018 |
This is another book that I had difficulty in rating. Part of me wishes to give it two stars, but I am sticking with three because I truly did enjoy the book.

This book intimidated me. I found Irving's writing dense - not in a difficult to understand way, the writing just seemed to have a weight to it. I couldn't read the book in massive sittings, but rather had to set it down, had to think, and the story did stick with me when I wasn't reading it.

I would recommend this book as an example of good technical writing. The sentences are well put together, the settings well described. The plot could have moved faster - but the pace, I think, emphasized Irving's technical skill as a writer. It is, in essence, a book about writing replete with examples.

Just try to get away from his um.. often condescending tone. ( )
  Lepophagus | Jun 14, 2018 |
Never finished Never cared ( )
  busterrll | Mar 1, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (52 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Irvingprimary authorall editionscalculated
Commandeur, SjaakTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Paolini, Pier FrancescoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rumler, IreneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Voor Salman
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Het waren in de regel de dwergen waardoor hij steeds terugkeerde - terug naar het circus en terug naar India.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 years later, he will be reacquainted with the murderer.

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