Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review: Lunch with Buddha

Lunch with Buddha
Roland Merullo
AJAR Contemporaries
PFP Publishing
paperback, 347 pages
a copy of this book was provided from the publisher through TLC Book Tours

If you have ever sat down to meditate for twenty minutes, then sneaked a peek at the clock to find that only three minutes have passed, then you will probably love this book. But even if you have never even thought about meditating, you should give Lunch with Buddha a try.

Roland Merullo's enormously appealing novel takes the reader on a road trip from Seattle, Washington to Dickenson, North Dakota in the company of the novel's narrator (Otto Ringling, a New York book editor) and Volya Rinpoche, a monk and spiritual teacher who also happens to be Otto's brother-in-law. Otto is in a dark place, but his emotional challenge is presented in down-to-earth terms. In fact, one of the strengths of Lunch with Buddha is the author's ability to approach spirituality, loss, and parental love with a wry, humorous touch. Lunch with Buddha is anything but New Age positive-message pablum. Otto has a healthy dose of skepticism, and while he has great affection for Volya Rinpoche, he also sees his brother-in-law as at times exasperating or even embarrassing.

Lunch with Buddha comes five years after the publication of Merullo's earlier novel Breakfast with Buddha. The earlier novel features a road trip with Otto and Rinpoche, and won fulsome praise from both critics and readers. I haven't read Breakfast with Buddha, but based on my reading experience of Lunch with Buddha, I plan to read Breakfast and any other Merullo books I can get my hands on. I loved the author's gentle and humorous tone, and open-minded, but never preachy, consideration of spirituality. Otto Ringling is a sort of middle-class, middle-aged Everyman. He is comfortable in his role as a food-book editor, financially secure, and coping with an emotional hurdle that every human being faces at one time or another. Otto loves his children unconditionally, but worries about some of their choices. He has some issues with his only sibling, Celia (he sees her as flaky, frankly) but has nothing but love for his niece, a preternaturally wise five-year-old named Shelsa. Otto's one big flaw seems to be his ceaseless seeking...for the perfect meal: yes, he is obsessed with earthly perfection in the form of food.

Merullo structured Lunch with Buddha in such a way that the reader does not need to have read the previous novel, although I'm sure it wouldn't hurt. What I liked best about the novel, aside from the humor, were the characters. Volya Rinpoche really grew on me, and while I was skeptical (like Otto), in the end Rinpoche seemed like a real guru and a real person. The character of Shelsa is one I'd like to meet again, and I hope that Merullo will write a Dinner with Buddha so that I can see where Otto, Volya, Celia, Shelsa and the Ringling children (Otto's college-age son and daughter) go after Lunch.

Roland Merullo is an elegant, understated writer who dares to approach spirituality--an unusual topic in American fiction. There is some wry social commentary, as well as a hint or two of some encroaching darkness or even threat to Rinpoche's community and his spiritually gifted daughter. When I finished reading Lunch with Buddha I found myself thinking of the characters as real people, even worrying about them a bit, and hoping I would be able to meet them again soon. Highly recommended for seekers and skeptics alike.

Roland Merullo has a website: http://www.rolandmerullo.com
For more information about Lunch with Buddha: http://www.lunchwithbuddha.com


Leah said...

This sounds really good! What you said about sitting down to meditate for 20 minutes and then looking at the clock to see that only three minutes have gone by is totally me! I'm interested in meditation but have totally failed the few times I've tried.

I'm almost surprised that this is a novel; it really sounds like great memoir material. I need to give this a read!

bermudaonion said...

I read American Savior by the same author and found it to be very thought provoking. This book sounds that way as well.

bibliophiliac said...

@Leah-five years ago I made a New Year's resolution to begin meditating every day. This year I finally started. Sometimes it takes us awhile! When I first saw the title, I thought this book would be a spiritual autobiography....but it is actually a very entertaining, yet thought-provoking, novel.

bibliophiliac said...

@bermudaonion-If you liked American Savior then you will probably like this book as well....