A Son of the Circus Review
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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 afternoon went.

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