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Lunch with Buddha by Roland Merullo
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Lunch with Buddha

by Roland Merullo

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of Lunch with Buddha by Roland Merullo from TLC Book Tours for review.

Lunch with Buddha is the third of Roland Merullo’s novels I’ve read (Breakfast with Buddha and American Savior being the first two), and I found it no less delightful than the others. Though it is the sequel to Breakfast with Buddha, by no means must you read one to appreciate the other.

Overall, I found Lunch with Buddha to be an enjoyable, relaxing, enlightening read — gentle, funny, touching, and full of food for thought. I like Merullo's writing style a lot and appreciate his knack for creating sympathetic, three-dimensional characters. I’m happy to have been reminded to check out more by Roland Merullo!

Full review on Erin Reads. ( )
  erelsi183 | Nov 18, 2013 |
[Lunch with Buddha] seems unlikely to appeal to a wide audience, just as Eastern religious beliefs continue to occupy only a relatively small niche in the U.S. national psyche. But if you're game, this is a well done spiritual road journey. Once again, after we first met them in [Breakfast with Buddha], skeptical but yearning Otto Ringling hits the road with his irrepressible guru brother-in-law Volya, a Russian Buddhist (who's actually omniverous in his religious consumption).

Otto's had a happy, successful, comfortable life as an editor in New York. He describes himself as "Sophisticated, perhaps spoiled, a tad cynical, fond of strong coffee and the Times, witty in a big-city way, afraid of pain and death, open to the idea of a calmer mind but not yet quite to the associated antics that accompanied a serious spiritual practice." He has lost his wife Jeannie unexpectedly, and he is traveling with his children to Seattle to fulfill her wish of spreading her ashes out West. He is rudderless and hoping somehow to find his way.

Volya, the Rinpoche, with his Russian accent, has a wide following, and Otto wants him to be the real thing. "After all these years, all these 'wessons', all the hours I'd spent in reading and meditation, if he turned out to be a kindly fraud, I think I would have taken to drink, or signed up for a lifetime of therapy, or never again in my life ventured off the safely beaten path." They ride together in an old pick-up (the gift of an acolyte) from the Northwest back to the family farm in North Dakota. Otto's sister and Volya, along with their spiritually precocious young daughter, now run a retreat there, much to the dismay of some locals. As Otto and Volya journey through well-described mountains and Yellowstone and wide plains, Volya looks to Otto to explain American culture. They have fun on water slides and in the "Boiling River" at Yellowstone, and Volya gets to learn about American food, marijuana, and various American eccentricities. There's a lively meetup with a group of transvestites in an unlikely locale, who go from skeptical and threatening to embracing. Volya is a sweet and funny character who clearly is no fraud. He also has no interest in behaving in some heavenly royal way for his followers. He knows Otto well, spent much time with Otto's dying wife, and gradually tries to lead Otto away from being lost in grief to being present with his family and others.

Otto is an entertaining curmudgeon who is well aware of his many failings, and a father who wants the best for his teenage son and daughter, but has difficulty letting them reach their own decisions. Times when he finds himself, finally, giving them honest answers, rather than pat, fatherly advice, rang true for me. His reaction to horrifyingly realistic homophobia from fundamental Christians (who mistakenly assume he and Volya are a couple) also rang true. I enjoyed reading a book that takes on the more difficult questions we all face with humor and self-deprecation. Life, death, depression, religion, misguided religiosity, parenting, loss, the dangers of exalting the teacher, why we are here, all lightly and dextrously handled in a worthy follow-up to his equally enjoyable [Breakfast with Buddha]. ( )
  jnwelch | Jun 12, 2013 |
This is a story about how love shapes our lives. You don’t have to be a middle-aged father of two, a bereaved spouse, or even a spiritual person to appreciate the magic that Roland Merullo weaves in Lunch with Buddha. His is a novel that transcends the cultural, linguistic, and religious divides that often complicate our lives and leave us pondering its great mysteries. What is the meaning of life? is a recurring theme that Merullo’s protagonist and narrator, Otto Ringling, grapples with as he treks through Northwestern USA alongside his friend and “brother-and-law”. Although Otto has reservations about making the trip from Seattle—where he scatters the ashes of his wife—to North Dakota with Volya Rinpoche, the latter may be exactly what Otto needs. With Rinpoche’s help, Otto can find the bridge between the comforts of this life and the mysteries of life beyond, which ultimately leads him to where he needs to be. Merullo has written a story that tugs at the heartstrings: readers can all-too-easily empathize with Otto as he deals with the aftermath of Jeannie’s death and the general vicissitudes of life.

Plot & Pacing: 8
If you’re looking for a story that follows the typical pyramid pattern, you should know that this isn’t one of them. But sometimes, it’s nice to just journey alongside someone and observe as he/she stumbles through life, trying to make sense of everything. There are passages that I skimmed (mostly because I felt that setting descriptions needed to take a backseat to the conversations at the moment), but this book is akin to a comforting friend. I looked forward to going back to the story whenever I could.

Characters: 8
Otto is a wonderful narrator, and he is the perfect medium through which Merullo handles the tricky subject of life and death as he is both believer and sceptic. He is also a good role model as father and friend, but the best part of his character is whenever he remembers Jeannie. When his eyes brim with tears, so do mine. Rinpoche is full of energy and teachings; he is very close to what I imagine the Buddha must have been like. When I read his character, I see a very peaceful man with a wery, wery wide smile on his face.

Setting: 8
This novel could easily be re-classified as a travelogue of Northeastern USA. I enjoyed learning a little bit of Washington, Montana, and North Dakota. I’m excited to take a dip in the Boiling River and to look out for the 90-minute intervals of Old Faithful at Yellowstone. And for a foodie like me, I loved all the details and critiques of the food they eat.

Style: 8
Although there were little pockets where the story seemed to drag, Merullo’s style is very easy to enjoy. Every now and then, he inserts delectable nuggets that stick with you: “Our almost unlimited freedom was like an African plain, a vast Serengeti of possibility, capable of holding every style of opinion and belief, every kind of life” (175) and “We could be boorish and stupid and petty and wasteful, and somehow, against Yellowstone’s beautiful bulk, all that was just a flea nipping at a horse’s ankle” (217).

Learnability & Teachability: 8
This novel is great to read for no reason, but I’m sure people who have a spiritual/philosophical bent would enjoy it even more. It would make a great book-club selection as it is replete with deliciously awkward topics that could generate great conversations. I haven’t read Breakfast with Buddha, but I’m interested in it now, and I certainly look forward to Dinner with Buddha.

POTENTIAL TEACHABLES
Journalling about life, death, love, money, hatred, etc.; mapping the road trip; Yellowstone and all the other landmarks mentioned; favourite dishes and impersonating a food critic; Otto and Cecilia’s relationship vs. Anthony and Natasha’s relationship; Otto’s relationship with his dad and how it informs/affects his relationship with his kids; tenets of the world’s major religions (especially Buddhism) and the idea of each religion being different ways to get to the same destination; spirituality and how it is handled in the various major religions. ( )
  mrsmonnandez | Nov 29, 2012 |
Roland Merullo’s Lunch With Buddha is lyrical, thought-provoking, exquisite. I knew I was in for a treat from the first page, basking in the rich language, and Merullo’s novel is truly a joy for the senses.

Narrator Otto is the perfect mix of skeptic and believer. Hanging with Rinpoche, a revered holy man with an unending philosophical appreciation for life, is enough to change anyone — but Otto doesn’t have accept it. Still smarting from a recent tragedy, he’s not always in the mood for Rinpoche’s musings and non sequiturs — but knows his brother-in-law means well. Traveling together from Washington to North Dakota in a rickety old vehicle allows the pair plenty of chats on life, love and what comes next. And for Otto, a foodie and family man, these chats transcend the simple road trip.

Rinpoche himself is a true character. Enigmatic and fascinated by the strange habits of Americans, his observations — in broken English — reflect U.S. culture through a very unique prism. I loved the questions he asks Otto about the American way of doing things, and his devotion to Cecelia and Shelsa is very sweet. He’s someone completely comfortable in his skin — a man who doesn’t think of vanity, selfishness, cruelty. Regardless of one’s religion, Rinpoche’s thought-provoking prompts and explanations are fascinating.

There’s so much to love about Lunch With Buddha, a review book I accepted with some trepidation. I was worried I wouldn’t connect with the characters, would find the religious aspects too preachy, wouldn’t relate to Otto and his sad quest. I hadn’t read the first in Merullo’s series, Breakfast With Buddha, and worried I’d miss something by starting with the second book. But something about the description tugged at me — and despite its length, I was completely drawn into Rinpoche and Otto’s tale. No previous knowledge of the Ringling family necessary.

The story’s first-person narration clinched it for me. As Rinpoche and Otto meandered across state lines, meeting others who would teach lessons along the way, I felt like I’d wedged myself into the yurt they were supposed to share or hitched a ride in the back of the cab. Their journey is just that: a journey. One with a destination, yes, but also one without. One that continues long after we’ve closed the book. ( )
  writemeg | Nov 27, 2012 |
Lunch with Buddha Amazes - Highly Recommended Read

Breakfast with Buddha was an amazing novel that presented a wonderful spiritual journey. Lunch with Buddha is just as intriguing. Readers will delight in the story and the humor this work presents.

Author, Roland Merullo has gone above and beyond in this new book. Included within the pages is an interview, a reader's guide and beautiful pictures.

Now we've tasted Breakfast and Lunch, can't wait for an appetizing dinner.

Thanks Roland - Great Read!!!

HIGHLY Recommended ( )
  AmandaKerr | Oct 31, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0984834575, Paperback)

Heartbreaking in places, hilarious in others, Lunch with Buddha takes its readers on a quintessentially American road trip across the Northwest.  That outer journey, complete with good and bad meals, various outdoor adventures, and an amusing cast of quirky characters, mirrors a more interior journey--a quest for meaning in the hectic routine of modern life.  

Otto Ringling, who's just turned 50, is an editor of food books at a prestigious New York publishing house, a middle-of-the-road father with a nice home in the suburbs, children he adores, and a sense of himself as being a mainstream,middle-class American.  His sister, Cecelia, is the last thing from mainstream.For two decades she's made a living reading palms and performing past-life regressions.She believes firmly in our ability to communicate with those who have passed on.

In Lunch with Buddha, when Otto faces what might be the greatest of life's emotional challenges, it is Cecelia who knows how to help him.As she did years earlier-- in this book's best-selling predecessor, Breakfast with Buddha--she arranges for her brother to travel with Volya Rinpoche, a famous spiritual teacher--who now also happens to be her husband. After early chapters in which the family gathers for an important event, the novel portrays the road trip made by Otto and Rinpoche, in a rattling pickup, from Seattle, across the Idaho panhandle and the vast Montana prairie, to the family farm in North Dakota. Along the way, the brothers-in-law have a series of experiences--some hilarious, some poignant--all aimed at bringing Otto a deeper peace of mind.

During visits to American landmarks, they meet a cast of minor characters, each of whom enables Rinpoche to impart some new spiritual lesson.Their conversations range from questions about life and death to talk of history, marijuana, marriage and child-rearing, sexuality, Native Americans, and outdoor swimming. In the end, with the help of their miraculous daughter, Shelsa, and the prodding of Otto's own almost-adult children, Rinpoche and Cecelia push this decent, middle-of-the-road American into a more profound understanding of the purpose of his life.His sense of the line between possible and impossible is altered, and the story's ending points him toward a very different way of being in this world.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:44:12 -0400)

Otto Ringling and his sister Cecelia could not be more different. He's just turned 50, an editor of food books at a prestigious New York publishing house, a man with a nice home in the suburbs, children he adores, and a sense of himself as being a mainstream, upper-middle-class American. Cecelia is the last thing from mainstream. For two decades she's made a living reading palms and performing past-life regressions. She believes firmly in our ability to communicate with those who have passed on. It will turn out, though, that they have more in common than just their North Dakota roots.… (more)

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