Review

A Son of the Circus

by John Irving



After A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY, there was a long stretch of time for
Irving fans awaiting his new novel. A SON OF THE CIRCUS, Irving's
eighth, arrived in 1994 to mixed reviews. The plot and geographical
locations were even more complex, if such is possible, than his
prior bestsellers. Irving introduced characters in foreign settings
with foreign names who had physical and personality traits with
which perhaps some readers simply could not identify.

Dr. Daruwalla is an ex-patriot East Indian living in Toronto.He
doesn't feel at home in Canada, where he has spent most of his
life, or in Bombay, his native city. His medical concern with
dwarfism leads him back to India and the world of the circus where
he can study and collect blood samples from the dwarves who still
find employment in the ragtag traveling bands that crisscross the
steamy, poverty-stricken, yet beautiful country of his birth. There
he meets a dwarf and his family.

In an intriguing subplot we discover that Dr. Daruwalla is an
aspiring playwright who provides scripts for India's most popular
movie detective. When a real life murder takes place, the doctor
becomes caught up in a manhunt for a serial killer. A nationwide
search for the killer takes the reader on a spellbinding tour of
India with encounters between street urchins, whores, child
stealers and drug sellers.Probably the most ambitious of Irving's
books --- because of the intricate plotting, the added element of
the murder mystery and the fact that India is the one place with
which Irving is unfamiliar --- CIRCUS has been acclaimed as both
his best and his worst book.It remains one of my favorite Irving
novels containing memorable characters with whom, if one can't
relate personally, one can still empathize.

Irving said in an interview that "Of all my novels, A SON OF THE
CIRCUS is the one that got the most letters from readers saying, in
effect, 'I am Dr. Daruwalla.'Which was the point about him . . .
that he was common, that his foreignness was growing ordinary. I
never got very many letters from people saying 'I am Homer Wells,'
or 'I am T. S. Garp.'"

A SON OF THE CIRCUS was more widely read and admired in Europe and
Asia than in America. Indians, Irving said, appreciated the
disconnectedness of Dr. Daruwalla, and also admired Irving's
portrayal of their native land.

Irving has been working on a screenplay for the book for almost ten
years and still hopes to see it translated to a movie.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 23, 2011

A Son of the Circus
by John Irving

  • Publication Date: August 30, 1995
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345389964
  • ISBN-13: 9780345389961