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A Son of the Circus

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  19,159 ratings  ·  694 reviews
A Hindi film star . . . an American missionary . . . twins separated at birth . . . a dwarf chauffeur . . . a serial killer . . . all are on a collision course. In the tradition of A Prayer for Owen Meany, Irving's characters transcend nationality. They are misfits--coming from everywhere, belonging nowhere. Set almost entirely in India, this is John Irving's most ambitiou ...more
Paperback, 680 pages
Published 1999 by Ballantine Books (first published 1994)
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Average rating 3.64  · 
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 ·  19,159 ratings  ·  694 reviews

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Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Oct 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012

The son of the circus from the title is Doctor Farokh Daruwalla, a somewhat surprising choice as main character that has to carry on his shoulders such a hefty narrative. At first glance he is a placid little man, of a rather short stature and rotund girth, neat and fussy but in general shy and insecure. As I followed his interior monologues for page after page I have come to compare him to a still pond that hides great depths beneath the calm surface.

as a Parsi and a Christian, a Bombayite an
Nov 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My favorite Irving book. I have a love/hate relationship with Irving's work. "Son" is a madhouse of a novel, even for Irving. The plot(s) are dizzyingly complicated; the characters as bizarre as always, but somehow believable. I loved the feeling for India in the book; and the humor--oh my! The scene in the cab made me laugh until I cried, thus waking up my husband, as I was reading in bed. If you can tolerate really, really weird situations, don't mind some mild but off-the-wall sexual referenc ...more
Edward Lorn
This is the 8th book in my John Irving Challenge. I only have five books left. As I said in my review of the previous book, A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving was not the best choice for a year-long chronological study of an author's growth and decline. His books and characters are far too similar. I do not suggest recreating this project with this author. On with the review.

By Goodreads standards, two stars equals "okay". I wish there was something between "okay" and "I hated it", because tha
Mar 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Returning for a second novel by John Irving, I was transported to India, where the culture shock was massive and the storytelling proved to be quite non-linear. All that being said, with patience and perseverance, I made it through this unique piece of writing and even feel that I enjoyed it. The circus is preparing for its next performance and, as always, there is something going on that is of interest. In India, the use of Achondroplastic dwarfs is quite common in the circus, allowing for some ...more
Apr 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I read this book by accident and discovered how rich a a story can be.
Mar 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: india

I bought my battered, brown paged copy of “A Son of the Circus” second-hand at Blossoms Book House in Church Street, Bangalore. A previous owner had left an old used Bangladesh Biman (airways) boarding pass inside it. I used this souvenir of a journey, completed long ago, as a bookmark. By the time I finished this long book, this fragile strip of paper was a mere shadow of its former self.

The book begins with some pages of ‘Author’s Notes’. These start with the words: “This novel isn’t about In
Cody | CodysBookshelf
DNF @ Page 355.

Yep, I'm giving up after investing so much time into this shaggy dog of a novel. I wanted to like it, really. Irving is one of my favorite authors and reading his stuff is always an unique experience. But this thing is ALL over the place: it doesn't know what it wants to be, or why. I can't keep up with the ever-expanding cast of characters nor can I find a reason to care about them. I don't know where the hell this thing is going, and I'm only halfway done. I just cannot keep go
Thomas Strömquist
My favorite John Irving - I'm having a bit of hard time to single out what makes this one a notch above the rest (and above a huge number of others), but I'm certain that the intriguing setting of India and (this time) perfect blend of joy of telling a story and strange but likeable characters are keys to the whole. ...more
Lisa Strube-Kilgore
Feb 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I've always been a John Irving fan, but this one took me by surprise. It has a very slow start - I found myself struggling to get into it, thinking, "Why on earth would I care about an Indian circus and an Orthopedist's quest for dwarf blood?" (And yeah - it's exactly as weird as it sounds, at least at first.) I almost gave it up. Suddenly, though, after I pushed through the first two chapters, the dozens of characters started to gain their own identities, and all of a sudden, bang! , I was i ...more
Apr 03, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nah
On some level, it hurts me to write this review. I first discovered Irving’s books in high school and fell for them hard. The obsession quieted down after a few years, but seeing his name was enough to give me nostalgia. A Son of the Circus has been in my to-read pile for literal years, and if I hadn’t procrastinated so much, maybe I would have been kinder in this review. Maybe I would have found some enjoyment in it.

Unfortunately, this book was an absolute slog, to say the least.

The actual pl
Emi Bevacqua
Dec 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I used to love John Irving, read most of what he wrote (The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Cider House Rules, The Water Method Man, The 158 lb Marriage) until A Widow for One Year and The Fourth Hand, which I hated and quit him over. So I was hesitant about A Son of the Circus, but then ended up falling in total love with it, and all the characters, even the minor ones.

The story is wacky, the main character Dr. Farrokh Daruwalla lives part-time in Canada and part-time in Bom
Mar 24, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Couldn't finish this one. Just not my cup of tea. ...more
Somewhere in a vacuous universe of this tube, Joey bumped into GR.

Joey: Hi, you look familiar with me. Have we met before? You must be … one of my friends on Good Reads!

GR: Oh, yeah! You are …Joey! ( overwhelmed )

Joey: And you are ...GR! Oh, it’s nice to see ya here! ( shaking hands with GR)

GR: Oh, yeah! As though we haven’t seen each other for ages! ( laughs)
( then she saw a book Joey holding) Oh, you must be reading something. ( trying to look through it) Wait ! wait! Wait! You have been rea
Lisa Cook
Feb 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love John Irving with an unbridled and, to be fair, probably pretty biased passion. I really haven't met an Irving book I didn't like. Despite the chaos, despite the coincidence, despite the crazy, I'm always irrevocably hooked from start to finish. A Son of the Circus was no exception.

A Son of the Circus is about Dr. Farrokh Daruwalla, and his practice as an orthopedist, and his quasi-adopted son John, and his career as a screenwriter, and his unlikely connection to an idealistic but clueless
Mar 07, 2008 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars. My least favorite John Irving book and the only one I can say that I did not especially like, not that it isn't written with his usual level of skill and attention to detail. But I found the plot and the characters far less addictive than that of the typical John Irving book. I probably would have rated this a little higher if it was written by someone else but I have the highest of expectations for Irving novels. He set a standard for himself with masterpieces such as The World Accor ...more
Aug 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rich in detail, intricately plotted, utterly hilarious, occasionally heartbreaking, A Son of the Circus is among John Irving's best, with some of his most fleshed out and realistic characters. I know some people give up on this book because it can take a while for some of the more disparate threads to come together with the main plot, and in my opinion those people are doing themselves a disservice. This book earns its five stars through tears of laughter and the welcome melancholy of saying goo ...more
Will Byrnes
Oct 25, 2008 rated it it was ok
I am a big fan of Irving, but I found this one disappointing.
Sep 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
It's a couple of years i read my first irving ever, and it's one of the few books which made me laugh out loud...hilarious situations, incredible characters, highly recommended.... ...more
Sep 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
At long last I got around to reading Irving's long, LONG, LOOONG "A Son of the Circus", and despite its faults (and there are many, given its bloated 600+ page length), it's one of his best efforts, right up there with "A Prayer for Owen Meany", "...Garp", and "A Widow for One Year". I thought he'd be out of his element (if not out of his mind) writing about India, and put off reading it for more than a decade, although I wish I hadn't.

Irving lets the reader know in advance, however, that (alth
January/February 2010

Dwarfs and beggars, whores and transvestites, murderers and movie stars and twins separated at birth, and the doctor/amateur geneticist/really amateur writer who knows them all...

Of what I’ve read, this is John Irving’s most sprawling novel yet, a wild circus with a half-dozen acts all scrambling for the center spot. Easily worth five stars, but I probably read it wrong. Often, with Irving, you can set the book down and come back to it after a long absense, or even just pick
Aug 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Critics may complain about the repetitive images of John Irving's books, but I love how he weaves the symbolism and influences of his life into his work. A Son of the Circus includes the common imagery of India, Toronto, central Europe, dwarfism, circuses, etc. from his other works. (More on that topic here: [])

As always, I love his writing voice and the flow of the story. In this one, his nod to Graham Green is also a fun aspect of the story, a tribute to
Feb 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
As always, John Irving takes the reader on an intense and varied journey through varied cultures and mysteries. I love his insights and parallel plots all going on at the same time; no time to be bored or distracted.
Melissa Gastorf
I don't know if I liked this book or not

I struggled for a while, trying to decide whether to continue reading or to put it down. And I am not certain why I didn't until the last 150 pages, and by that point I had a!ready read that far, I might as well finish the book. You don't connect with the characters and get you feel a need to follow the story to the end.
Dec 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Okay, I’ll admit it: Indian tales just don’t have the same appeal to me as those set in the U.S. or Europe. I’m hardly a xenophobe, but there’s just more of a “connection” when reading about familiar places, names, customs, etc. And so, when I glanced at the summary of this book during that phase when I first consider whether I even want to read a book or not, my first instinct was to pass on it (or at least put it as far down on my queue as possible, given that I couldn’t completely discount a ...more
Harry Collier IV
May 31, 2014 rated it liked it
Reread this and by the end I wished I hadn't. There is a great story in this book but halfway through Irving abandons it for personal politics and exploring issues such as homosexuality and aids. These issues had nothing to do with the story and so felt forced.
2 chapters before the end the main problem of the novel resolves itself leaving Irving two final chapters for wrapping up loose ends and believe it of not character development.
An internal problem was given to the main character in the fi
Carol Bee
May 07, 2016 rated it liked it
I dropped this after the first 100 pages as I found it hard going getting into the life of circus dwarfs.

A couple of months later I picked it up again and WOW it really did take off for me.

A fascinating story and set of characters, generally based in India, but I found it a shocking story at times. I've read several books based in India and I am always taken aback at the poverty, dire living conditions, insanitary conditions and the lack of human respect for women. It is very difficult to unde
Feb 05, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of my least favorite of what I've read of Irving, and I'm trying to figure out why. I'm certainly a little tired of this perspective on life in India and have others I vastly prefer, but it sort of works for the unrooted nature of the protagonist. I also liked the characters and the story somewhat. My biggest problem is just that I had not real reason to read. I enjoyed a little as I read, but I had no drive to keep going. It took me forever. There just was no pull, no purpose. I don ...more
Jan 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm a John Irving fan and this book did not disappoint. He weaves together characters from different decades and different countries, complex and rich in detail. The book is both disturbing in its subject matter as most of his books are but compelling in a way that I could hardly put it down. A great summer or vacation read as it is close to 700 pages long. ...more
Thomas Strömquist
My all-time favorite Irving, even if I'm having troubles telling what exactly puts it a notch above the rest (just as I said in my review of the Swedish translated version). This is really up for a re-read soon, for now, I'm going to say that I definitely would recommend reading it in original language. ...more
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JOHN IRVING was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1942. His first novel, Setting Free the Bears, was published in 1968, when he was twenty-six. He competed as a wrestler for twenty years, and coached wrestling until he was forty-seven.
Mr. Irving has been nominated for a National Book Award three times—winning once, in 1980, for his novel The World According to Garp. He received an O. Henry Award

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