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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2007 John Irving (P)2007 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Ringmaster Irving introduces act after act, until three (or more) rings are awhirl at a lunatic pace....His Bombay and his Indian characters are vibrant and convincing." ( The Wall Street Journal)
"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." ( Booklist)
"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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall
  • connie
  • Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • 01-15-09

If you liked "Q+A"... might like this bizarre tale of family, community, hierarchy, missionaries, twins separated at birth, and transexual serial murder in India. Unlike Q+A's Vikras Swarup, Irving isn't Indian, but he avoids cultural appropriation (I think--I'm not Indian) by stating upfront in the intro that he doesn't know India well, thanking a host of South East Asian artists for their help, and creating an ex-pat main character who is alientated from his birth country but not assimilated into the West.

I found the novel humourous and tremendously entertaining, but it's not for everyone: Know that there are multiple quirkly characters weaving through several intersecting storylines highly dependent upon coincidence, like a modern day tale from Trollope or Dickens with a twist of PG Wodehouse's mania, all held together by excellent narration.

Irving asks, in a postcolonial global village, "where are you from?" rather than the usual, "who are you?", and the only viable attitude he offers to complexities of human nature is that of a child's wonderment at a circus, despite the probability that the acts are based on cruelty to participants. The opposite of such wonder is fundamentalism. Many characters are shackled by fate, but a few escape predictable ends through human imagination or altruism.

Irving presents an unflattering but loving portrait of Bombay/Mumbai in the late 80s, before the terrorist bombings of 1993 and economic boom of 2000s. I'm not sure how an inhabitant would respond to the outsider's view. Also I'm not sure how a transexual might react to some of the characters. Some also might be put off by the novel's use of "cripple"/"crippled" to describe what we refer to now as disability, but all the charaters are "crippled," if not physically than emotionally or socially.

29 of 29 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Floyd
  • fairfax, VT, USA
  • 09-19-08

Stick With It

The first 4-5 hours are difficult to endure. Lots of character introductions and scene setting. But if you can hang through this, you will find this a charming, quirky, funny novel.
The main charcter is loveable and quite endearing. I felt I was in India along with Dar and the Duckworthians. The author gave me such a feel for the characters. He made me care about their antics in this mysterious country. Now I want to visit India and see the Royal Circus.

18 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Irving's Best Since Garp

I'm an Irving fan, and haven't enjoyed his work this much since Garp. Unlikely characters in strange circumstances, and it all works wonderfully. I laughed out loud, very unusual for me, and was hooked on characters I initially thought would be hard to like. Excellent narration, long book but worth it.

18 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Chris
  • Blackheath, Australia
  • 09-10-09

Too Long

This book was very well read by David Colacci and started out well but the plot seemed to ramble all over the place. Overall, quite enjoyable but too long.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Very Entertaining

Listening to this book was like riding a merry-go-round. You never know where it was going to drop you off next!

At first I was a little confused, dizzy perhaps, but once I figured it out, I really did enjoy the ride.

This book has it all...murder, romance, sex, scandal all told a little tounge in cheek. It is at times laugh out loud funny. Though I must admit that the ending did drag out. I thought it was over at the end of Part 3 only to find out I had another 4 hours to go.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Bette
  • Walnut Creek, CA, USA
  • 01-23-09

John Irving Builds a Fascinating World Again!

I am always amazed at Irving's heights of imagination. And, A Son of the Circus does not disappoint. Hearing in the prologue that our author has never been to India, I was somewhat worried. But never fear, the world he paints while steeped in Mombai cultural references, is strictly his own and is without parallel in the real planet. And, that is what brings me back to him: improbable personalities living in impossible situations yet all is familiar and understandable. Don't know how he does it, but I certainly know how to enjoy a good read.
Each character is complete. The twists and turns of the "plot" with flashbacks and forwards is dizzying. A veritable 3-ring circus squared! And, so much fun.
Download this novel and get ready to lose yourself.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Keith
  • Springfield, MO, United States
  • 02-26-09

Three Of Everything

When I first began reading this book, I noticed something very odd: all things happened in threes. For example, if the author describes something using an odd turn of phrase, you will see it used in three different ways very soon. The book itself is in three parts though you might be pressed to see a dividing line since, like the circus he is immitating, the action of one ring draws your attention as you are still aware of the others. In form, this book is a masterpiece matched by only a few. As for story, I was somewhat disappointed as nothing much seems to happen (even though there is a great deal of build up). But, as with all of John Irving's work, it is about the view along the road, your fellow travelers, and your remembrances along the way and not an elaborate chase scene ending in a massive explosion...

18 of 21 people found this review helpful

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  • Margaret
  • San Francisco, CA USA
  • 03-31-14

Irving's most difficult novel

Listening to A Son of the Circus is like going for a very long, meandering walk with a crazy uncle. Lots of stories of the past, woven only slightly together, driven by insane coincidences, following spur of the moment tangents to other distant places -- and yet, when the crazy uncle is John Irving, with his unmistakeable warmth and humor at full force, it's a walk worth taking.

This is a novel I've failed to read all the way through for eighteen years (I'm ashamed to admit this) and I'm a devoted Irving fan. It takes perseverance. But listening to it did help me connect the characters (and keep them all straight) for the first time. Definitely better listened to in audio format than read.

For Irving fans (and I think you have to be or I don't think you'll make it through this one): Recommend.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • James
  • Deer Park, WA, USA
  • 08-03-08

A Long Trip

I liked this book a lot but by hour 15 you'll wonder if this will ever end. Just go with the long diversions and back stories, the language and the great reader. You'll be through it in no time!

10 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

Typical Irving

John Irving it seems will alway pick on women, almost women, and children. You will not be disappointed. Again, he is the master of finding something funny in human suffering. His description is so rich you can almost smell the the surroundings.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Overall
  • Tom
  • 08-04-11

Absorbing and inventive book

This was the second John Irving audiobook I have listened to - the other being A Prayer for Owen Meany. It's taken me a while to get round to it as I was slightly put off by the length; although I enjoyed Owen Meany, it did lack the narrative momentum that makes a really good audiobook, and I was a little concerned that Son of the Circus might be the same, and this might make it a demanding and long listen.

But I was very pleasantly surprised. The plot is certainly an original one, very interesting and inventive, and the book never flags. The cast is quite a big one, but the author paints them all with a sure and vivid touch, and yoou want to know what is going to happen to them. Narration by David Colacci is excellent and he really makes the book such a pleasure to listen to.

All in all, a very enjoyable book and strongly recommended.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Joanna
  • 03-14-11

Loved it

Not as painful a story as Garp and not as unsettling as Owen Meany (even though it involves a serial killer); this is a great yarn. It is a page-turner, if an audio-book can be called such a thing and the characters and setting have a believable richness. The narration is excellent (accents/voices passable and not too distracting). I came to like the readers voice so much I have recently downloaded another book written by him.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Birgit
  • 05-24-12

Good fun

This journey is great fun. Irving always cracks me up and this story is as sad, funny, interesting and not entirely believable as all of his others I've read. I just wish Audible would hurry up and put Garp, Hotel New Hampshire and Cider House on the menu!

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Alison
  • 10-07-13

Rambling, funny, odd

I think this is is really worthy of 3.5 stars but I'm being generous as that isn't an option. I was disappointed because I listened to and loved A Prayer For Owen Meany some months ago and this book is nothing like as good - in my opinion anyway. However, I am trying not to make a direct comparison to that story which I thought was superb.

This story is incredibly rambling, so that it often felt disjointed. This eases somewhat by the third volume of the download possibly because you get used to it and also, you've assimilated the eleventy-hundred cast members into your memory and made some sense of it all. Kind of...

On the plus side, I was quite interested in the outcome. The story is basically a series of coincidences of such blatant unlikelihood that you just have to suspend all realistic notions and go with the flow. The characters were often finely drawn and the narration was very good, because there are a lot of accents to be contended with. It's funny, but not very. More dryly observational. The set-piece comedy elements are too long-winded for me.

On the downside, it's far too long and slow. This is quite damning from me, someone who often likes long, slow reads. But this was too much even for me. Long periods elapsed when I couldn't recall even hearing it as my mind had wandered but it never mattered.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark
  • 02-03-16

Bombay brilliance

This is a great big book that is funny, gripping and sad. I loved Garp and Owen Meaney but had read them so long ago that I had forgotten just how good a writer JI is. This story is packed; not everything works but the whole is constantly interesting and enjoyable.
The narrator is excellent, adding considerably to the humour and maintaining the pace throughout.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Alan
  • 06-07-11

A sleeper

It took me a while to get into this book. In fact, I got about a quarter of the way through and then stopped for a few months, although this was more to do with the fact that I was listening on my Shuffle in the swimming pool and then stopped swimming while I healed from surgery. I had to go back to the beginning again...

I loved the plot of this book. Although it was slow to start, it was definitely worth persevering. It was rather different to the other John Irving books I've read. David Colacci brought this to life really, really well. It was especially notable when Dr Daruwhalla was getting exasperated and angry! A stellar performance and a narrator I shall keep an eye out for on Audible.

The characters in the book are as lifelike as in any novel of Irving's, or indeed anyone else's. Mr Setna (I don't know the spellings, since it was an audiobook, so please forgive me that!) the steward at the Duckworth Club was superb. And how about Patel, the police commissioner!

I particularly enjoyed following Martin Mills and his change from blind faith to doubt. Both he and John D are 39 in the story, which just happens to be the same age as I am, so it was interesting to hear about how Martin was still finding himself. Me too!

The only thing I find annoying about Irving's writing style, and it's evident in all his novels, is his overuse of beginning a sentence with the word 'that'.

'That his something or other was big or small was evidence of his whatever...'. That kind of thing. I just find it overused and ultimately annoying as a result. But that aside, I loved this book!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Kirstine
  • 08-16-14

Enjoyable but takes time to make sense

If you’re familiar with John Irving’s novels you’ll know that he doesn’t tell a straightforward story and spins off into imaginative digressions. I’ve read/listened to four of his novels and this one has more seemingly irrelevant side-tracks. For much of the book I felt that, while I enjoyed the section I was listening to, the different stories didn’t seem to be connected, but after more than 20 hours of listening began to come together. Throughout there is an underlying theme of alienation owing to race, class, disability and sexuality. The harshness of life for many Indians isn’t avoided but there is much to chuckle about as the larger-than life-characters get involved in extraordinary scenarios.

Dr Daruwalla is the common thread of the narrative and is the only wholly sympathetic character. He is an orthopaedic surgeon of Indian origin based in Toronto who makes trips to India to study achondroplastic dwarfism, about which you will learn quite a bit. There’s a surprising amount of medical detail in the book about this genetic disorder as well as, for example, about sex-change operations and the symptoms of terminal AIDS. The doctor also writes story-lines for an Indian detective series so one learns about Indian cinema as well as circus acts, the transgender Hijra communities, prostitution and the Jesuits! In addition there is a serial killer at large and the doctor gets involved in trying to solve the crime.

As a consequence of all these diverse threads there are not only many characters to keep track of but there are also un-signalled jumps back and forth in time. An ambitious and complex book that gets better in the latter parts.

Not as good or memorable as A Prayer for Owen Meany, but in the end a satisfying listen.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • K
  • 08-22-15

So many books, so little time!

Any additional comments?

I lost interest and abandoned this book. Chose it because I had liked a previous John Irving book but I guess I just didn't have the staying power for this one :o(

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Dawn
  • 03-15-12

Paled into insignificance

I so loved Owen Meanie and was delighted to find another John Irving tale on audible. Not for me, I was disappointed with the story, characters and narration. I may have had a better and more positive view had I read it pre- Owen.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • B
  • 10-28-17

A delight

As relative newcomer to John Irving I was unsure what to expect. This story is wonderful mix ably read. I was completely absorbed