A SON OF THE CIRCUS

Irving (A Prayer for Owen Meany, 1989, etc.) sets his new book about outcasts and freaks in India, but the story is weighed down by the same stale bag of tricks he has been trotting out since Garp, only now they are more tedious than ever. Part murder mystery, part travelogue, part meditation on faith, sexual personae, and prejudice, the story follows Dr. Daruwalla, an orthopedic surgeon who lives in Toronto, back to India, where he was born. In Bombay, he tries to find a genetic marker for achondroplastic dwarfism — the condition that afflicts the circus dwarves he loves. Daruwalla is also a secret screenwriter for the Hindi cinema and has created the enormously popular and universally loathed Inspector Dahr — a character he invented for a man whom he had rescued as a child and who is like a son to him. And, in a typical Hindi film twist, the real Inspector Dahr has an identical twin who was separated at birth and has grown up in Canada. This twin also travels to Bombay, as a priest in training, unaware of his twin, the extreme hatred for his look-alike, or the fact that the current film seems to have inspired a series of murders and that he or his brother might be the next victim. Subplots involving the fates of orphans, prostitutes, homosexuals, people with the HIV virus, and children sold into bondage are all marched out like speakers at a mulch convention. The descriptions of the Indian circuses and the lives of the performers are the most interesting parts of the book, but they are buried under an avalanche of blather. The idea of disassociation, that "immigrants are immigrants all their lives," is ham-fistedly pounded into the reader without any of the humor or grace of Garp or even Cider House Rules. Irving's literary hero, Dickens, was paid by the word and was serialized in magazines, so he had a need to pad. Irving has no such excuse.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-43496-8

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1994

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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TRUE BETRAYALS

Thoroughbreds and Virginia blue-bloods cavort, commit murder, and fall in love in Roberts's (Hidden Riches, 1994, etc.) latest romantic thriller — this one set in the world of championship horse racing. Rich, sheltered Kelsey Byden is recovering from a recent divorce when she receives a letter from her mother, Naomi, a woman she has believed dead for over 20 years. When Kelsey confronts her genteel English professor father, though, he sheepishly confesses that, no, her mother isn't dead; throughout Kelsey's childhood, she was doing time for the murder of her lover. Kelsey meets with Naomi and not only finds her quite charming, but the owner of Three Willows, one of the most splendid horse farms in Virginia. Kelsey is further intrigued when she meets Gabe Slater, a blue-eyed gambling man who owns a neighboring horse farm; when one of Gabe's horses is mated with Naomi's, nostrils flare, flanks quiver, and the romance is on. Since both Naomi and Gabe have horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, Kelsey is soon swept into the whirlwind of the Triple Crown, in spite of her family's objections to her reconciliation with the notorious Naomi. The rivalry between the two horse farms remains friendly, but other competitors — one of them is Gabe's father, a vicious alcoholic who resents his son's success — prove less scrupulous. Bodies, horse and human, start piling up, just as Kelsey decides to investigate the murky details of her mother's crime. Is it possible she was framed? The ground is thick with no-goods, including haughty patricians, disgruntled grooms, and jockeys with tragic pasts, but despite all the distractions, the identity of the true culprit behind the mayhem — past and present — remains fairly obvious. The plot lopes rather than races to the finish. Gambling metaphors abound, and sexual doings have a distinctly equine tone. But Roberts's style has a fresh, contemporary snap that gets the story past its own worst excesses.

Pub Date: June 13, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14059-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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