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Edward Whittemore: Quin’s Shanghai Circus

If you have read the Jerusalem Quartet tetralogy, you will not be surprised by this book. If you are starting with this book, Whittemore’s first, it will be good preparation for the Jerusalem Quartet. Like the Jerusalem Quartet, this book features a monumental worldwide conspiracy which changes the face of world politics. This one is set primarily in the Far East and involves the role of the Japanese in World War II (and also in the Russo-Japanese War and the Rape of Nanking). God forbid that I should try to discuss the plot, which involves a giant of a man who tries to bring the largest Eastern pornography collection ever into the USA and ends up becoming a god, a priest who organises, at a famous picnic where three of the four participants wear gas masks, an anti-Japanese spy ring by carrying microfilm in bamboo inserted in the couriers’ anuses, Quin himself, searching for his parents and inadvertently brought into this conspiracy, Big Gobi, who has mental problems and prefers, indeed, has to be alone, the multimillionaire Japanese baron who converts to Judaism and seems to subsequently control world trade and his twin brother who controls the Japanese secret police in the War, and the mysterious Russian Adzhar who knows virtually every language and who translates the pornography we started with not into his native Russian (because he is opposed to Lenin’s New Economic Policy) but English which partially explains why the giant is trying to bring it into the USA. And this only touches the surface of this complex novel which, in fact, is barely more than two hundred pages long.

If you love conspiracy theory, you will love this book but, even if you don’t, it is a great novel, out-Pynchoning Pynchon as Whittemore carves up history, explains Japanese legends and shows us that not only is it really never quite like we think but that it isn’t even vaguely like we think.

Publishing history

First published 1974 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston