John Irving’s sweeping novel A Son of the Circus tells many stories. The central character, around whom the colorful cast is centered, is a doctor researching achrondroplasia in dwarves and moonlighting as a screenwriter of action films in India. A “little, potbellied man,” Dr. Daruwalla sees his major concern as a lack of “belonging.” Born in India and practicing medicine in Toronto, he feels neither Indian nor Canadian. He describes himself as “merely a guest of honor” in whatever country he lives.

As the novel opens, Daruwalla is in Bombay where, in the process of doing his research, he visits the circus and has a traumatic encounter with the wife of one of his dwarf subjects. He then reunites with the film star who plays the “James Bond”-like character in his screenplays.

What follows is six hundred pages of intrigue, high comedy, sexual encounters, mistaken identity, serial murder, and soul searching.

Within the subplots, Irving presents Vinod, a dwarf (reminiscent of The Hotel New Hampshire) with a limo/taxi service; John, the handsome Indian actor who plays the “Bond” character, Inspector Dahr; John’s identical twin brother, Martin, who is studying to be a priest; Nancy, an American hippie who is married to an Indian detective; and Rahul, whose sex change affects them all eventually.

Most of the action takes place in Bombay, and Irving’s eye for detail and sense of...

(The entire section is 514 words.)