A Widow for One Year by John Irving: A Book Review

widowI regret to say that this is one of the books I will NEVER ever read. I will just display it on my shelf along with the other author’s works. I will just read over the quotes marked my mind as though I were traumatic for this; it took me a long time to finish it. I did not even wink a night to finish it, but I failed.

I may not be good at literary analysis, but in my humble opinion, this book has a lot of padding or stuff which undermines the real concept of the story and caused me to lose my interest and get impatient. Do I have to read the scenes which appear not have to do with the other stories? Do I have to give a hoot about the summaries of the main character’s novels? The stories are beyond me. I could just tolerate with A Sound Like Someone Trying Not To Make A Sound which gave me thrills because this real children’s tale story is the linchpin of the real story. Yada yada yada Enough said! I just fast-read them.

I understand that John Irving is known for his remarkable skills in writing ambitious novels. No doubt because I still have his three works more in my storage box of knowledge; they are so wide-thick. In fact, it had taken me a few months  before I got around to his  A Son of the Circus which, eventually, I gave 1 star , for I found it awfully annoying too. I know it is a good read though. However, I doubt it; I don’t want to knock any books around collecting dust as if they ‘re trash any more.

What I liked about J. Irving is that he is indeed honest and independent. Had books just the like of this, even his wonderful The World  According to Garp, which I gave 4 stars , been read in an ingrained conventional society in the past, it would have been expunged and expurgated. John Irving would have outwitted D.H. Lawrence’s Lady  Chatterley’s Man. But still. I will never ever read it.

Now, to read or not to read.

Rating: 1/ 5 stars ( I didn’t like it. )

A Dwarf Launches a Little Ball : by Cho Se-Hui: A Book Review


” People called father a dwarf. They were right. Father was a dwarf. Unfortunately, people were right only about that. They weren’t right anything else…”

-Cho Se-Hui, A Dwarf Launches a Little Ball-

When it comes to reading books which themes have something to do with physical  deformities such as dwarfism, the condition of abnormal growth as  what we learned from Genetics,  the best examples are  novels  reflecting in social life of India such as A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and  A  Son of the Circus by  American novelist, John Irving  .  I can understand that such body condition can exist in India   where the  scenes of poverty are probably,  in theory, the leading factor. However, in a developed and industrialized country as well as  heralded as  the “Electronics Capital of the World”, South Korea, such idea is  inconceivable. Perhaps, I have never met any  Korean students  with this  genetic  disease yet.  Besides, as far  as I learned, the Korean government provides its citizens with good health services. In other words, all of them can have free access to  life and health services. So, I was just deluded into the fact that all Koreans were “physically” perfect. That is why I was flabbergasted by  the  title  of this book which  has something to do with a dwarf. In the end, the setting of the story was when South Korea was still a poor country.

In an impoverished neighborhood in the outskirts of  Seoul, there was  a dwarf whose name was Kim Bur-ri, living as a head of his family. Ironically, the name of the place was Happiness District, Paradise County. Eventually, the neighborhood would go into redevelopment  as part of South Korea’s industrialization at that time. Kim Bu-ri’s house would  be one of the houses to be demolished. But the heart of the matter was how each member of the family, particularly  the dwarf’s three children would struggle desperately to restore the broken pieces  of their lives brought about by  the political-economic dilemmas.

The style of the story has a little resemblance to Japanese stories.  (Probably , Japanese literature influenced Korean  literature or vice-versa. ) The tone is  dead-flat, direct but quite soft and calm. It is not that strong   as what I feel in other novels. Besides, it is a combination of realism and fantasy which adds literary excitement to a reader like me. In addition, the flow of the story   is meditating and cathartic , typical of a writer who releases his burden feelings  with the practice of yoga or Zen meditation. Thus, it is not that boring as I had expected .  I wonder if the pathos is the same as the original  Korean version.

“Misconduct, corruption, bureaucratic cleanup – there was a time when those words appeared almost daily in the newspaper. Only then did the family in back lower the volume on their TV. They stowed away their refrigerator, washer, piano, tape player, and other such possessions in the basement and brought out their old clothes to wear in public.”

-Cho Se-Hui, A Dwarf Launches a Little Ball-

If I  try to understand the deeper part of the story without much knowledge of the Korean history, the concept  deals with how  social changes  like industrialization affect human life, particularly a family. In the story, figuratively, dwarf Kim Bur-ri  symbolizes poor and socially  marginalized people , lagging behind the political-economic changes. What happens is how the impact of the  industrialization  affects   the family values. In the story, Kim Bu-ri came to the point that he ended up losing his dignity by working as a dwarf acrobat.

As I am falling to reading Eastern literature such as Japanese and  Korean literature , I come to the realization that there is really something unique  about the novels  written by East Asian writers. Sometimes, I conclude that as the History serves, all eastern Asian nations were one place. So, hypothetically, they had the same culture and customs.

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it. )

A Son of the Circus by John Irving: A Book Review

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 reading John Irving’s ?

Joey: ( hiding the book behind his back ) Ah,huh…er… I have. ( smiling )

GR: What’s the title?

Joey: Ah…er..A Son of the Circus.

GR: Oh, really? Wait! ( thinking ) Is not that on the list of 1001 Best Novels of All Time? ( giggling)

Joey: Oh, yeah! You are right!

GR: I said it. So,what do you think of it?( excited )

Joey: Ah.. er..Well, H-how bout you? What have you been reading?

GR : Oh, I have just finished a chicklit by Rainbow Rowell. OMG! It’ terrific. I recommend you read it. It’s heart-breaking!In fact, it won …..

Joey: Oh, really?

GR: So , Is John Irving’s interesting?

Joey: Er..I think I have heard a lot of good things about Rowell. I would love to read hers too.

GR: Oh, yeah ! Come on! Get on with it! Then, let me know what you think of it. I am so excited !What was it again? Oh, yeah! It is John…

Joey : Ah,( looking at his watch ) er.. I am sorry! I’ve got to go! Nice to meet you again, GR. Chat you on Good reads. ( walking past him in a hurry)

GR: Er..H-how about …? Wait! ( waving his hand ) Ok. ( watching him fading away ) …Is there something the matter with the book? ( muttering under his breath, despaired)

When GR was home, he logged into his Goodreads account. The first message popped was from Joey’s.

To: GR
From: Joey

Hi, GR. I’ve checked that you haven’t read A Son of the Circus by John Irving’s yet.Well, I don’’t wanna be a spoiler. If you wanna read it, have LONG PATIENCE.
Otherwise, you might end up laying it to rest.
Good luck!


At last, I finished this 708 –page novel since I had let it on my study table collect mote of dust as well as get stuck and musty in my currently-reading list on Goodreads for a year. Gee, at that time I still found it very humorous, replete with amusing themes I could not find from other novels, as well as I was impressed by its firs immortal THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP ( 4 stars ). In fact, I was tempted to read first thereupon buying his A WIDOW FOR ONE YEAR because I was fascinated by its softbound cover. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed. So, automatically, I gave it 1 star. And for the second time around, A SON OF THE CIRCUS is somewhat less disappointing than the former . What’s the matter? In effect, doubtless , John Irving is a gifted writer. I liked the fact that he is able to write such ambitious novels as though he does not have to deal with a writer’s block, as if he never runs out of any ideas. Besides, it is amazing of him to jumble up his different themes together in the same concept. On the other hand, since it is now my third novel, I am now getting more familiar with his writing style than that I found out why I gave both A WIDOW FOR ONE YEAR and this one 1 star. First, Irving loves dilly-dallying with his stories as I thought of before. He tends to beat around the bush. He does not stick to the main story. Rather, he tells more details about a superficial situation I am not very much familiar with. . Who cares? Thus, the narrator sounds to be blabbering.

Blah! Blah! Blah! Blah! Blah!

Furthermore, I have noticed that John Irving loves repeating the same stories in the other chapters in a sense that they are all connected- a writing style that is doubtless very rare among other writers. However, such style is persistent in a sense that it ends up a pain in the ass. Imagine a plot goes like this :

Chapter 1 : You read a story …………………..blah! blah! blah!
Chapter 2: You read another story…….then here it goes again, the same with Chapter 1…blah! blah! blah!

I am telling you. You need a considerable amount of long patience to finish it.

Granted that this is less disappointing, I believe that this is still a masterpiece. For me , any piece of literary work is a labor of writing skills. Alas, it’s beyond my taste. But as the cliché goes,” There must be the method to Irving’s madness.”, and this is on what I want to be shed light someday.

I still have his two novels more on my shelf: A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY and UNTIL I FIND YOU. I wonder if he wrote them with the same style. Dear me!