John Irving has a talent for overwhelming me. His books are so full of subtleties
that it makes my head spin. But that still doesn't stop me. I just keep reading.
In A Son of the Circus, Irving creates a story that will make even the most
level head spin. It's the story of Dr. Farrokh Daruwalla, an orthopedic surgeon
who was born in Bombay, went to school in Vienna, and moved to Toronto with
his Austrian wife. At 59, he finds himself reflecting on something his father told
him long before: "Immigrants are immigrants all their lives." He feels like he
really has no home.
Still, Farrokh keeps going back to Bombay, where he lives a totally different life.
In India, he's more than just an orthopedic surgeon. In the circuses, he's known
as "the vampire" because he takes blood samples from the dwarf clowns -- to
further his research of dwarf genetics. He's also the secret screenwriter of a
series of controversial movies about an Indian cop named Inspector Dhar. His
movies have created all kinds of scandal in India because they tend to offend
everyone -- yet they're always box-office hits.
The latest Inspector Dhar film, however, has caused more than controversy and
outrage -- it's caused a crime wave. In the movie, Dhar investigated the serial
killing of transvestite-eunuchs who were left with a sort of calling-card -- a
mysterious drawing of an elephant on their stomach. Soon, the papers begin
reporting a copy-cat killer, and more and more people (prostitutes, mostly) are
being found dead -- with elephants drawn on their stomachs. What the papers
don't know, however, is that the killings have been going on for twenty years --
and Farrokh got the idea for the movie when he was called in to examine the
very first victim.
The crime hits closer to home, though, when a dead body is found at Farrokh's
country club -- and, instead of an elephant drawing, the victim carries a typed
note that says, "More members die if Dhar remains a member." Suddenly,
Farrokh finds himself (and his friend, John D., the actor who plays Dhar) in the
middle of a real investigation -- one that's much stranger than anything the
fictional detective has ever experienced.
There's no way I can explain every little subplot of this novel in one little review.
There are just too many. There are circus performers and crippled beggar
children and religious miracles and teenaged prostitutes and acid-burned pimps
and a Jesuit missionary who was separated from his twin at birth. There's action
and mystery and drama and even comedy. There's more, too -- but you'll just
have to read the book to find out more. I'm running out of room.
Just a quick warning: the book contains a lot of surprisingly, um, adult material.
So if you can't handle it, you might want to pass. But if you can handle it, you'll
find yourself doing what I did -- you'll pick up the book for "just a few minutes"
over lunch, and you'll suddenly look up from the book and wonder where the