Friday, November 16, 2012

Lunch with Buddha, Roland Merullo (3.5 stars)

About Lunch with Buddha

Paperback – 392 pages
Publisher: AJAR Contemporaries (November 13, 2012)
On the surface, Lunch with Buddha is a story about family. 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.
In Lunch with Buddha, when Otto faces what might be the greatest of life’s difficulties, it is Cecelia who knows how to help him. As she did years earlier in this book’s 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.
Learn more about Lunch with Buddha at the book’s website,
Otto Ringling is heading west with his son and daughter to spread his wife's ashes. (At first I hesitated to give away this "greatest of life's difficulties" because the summary above didn't specifically mention it, but the wife's death is revealed within the first few pages of the book.) Their grief is still a very open wound, even though it has been months since her death.

In addition to saying goodbye, Otto is planning a journey with his sister's husband and spiritual guru. The journey is slow and considerate; there are no quick revelations or preachy moments. Most of the novel, the characters and story seemed so natural, I wondered if I was reading nonfiction. I re-read the summary a couple of times to reassure myself that this was indeed a work of fiction. It simply felt so real, like I was a passenger on the journey. Otto, as well as Volya, are engaging and memorable characters.

The journey at times seemed a bit long, but I respect that it should be. Such a process of grief wouldn't be fast-paced. Still, I glossed over some of the geographical and food details, even though I understood the importance of both themes to the story. I also found myself wanting to know more details about Otto, his son, his daughter, his sister, etc. The journey, as a snapshot of Otto's life, was significant and heartwarming. And it's only because the author made me care so much about these characters that I wanted more insight.

I highly recommend this book to readers who appreciate character-driven story and spiritual themes. In addition, I must commend the author for not only creating an interesting story, but also giving readers a spiritual journey. I was more emotionally invested and open minded about my place in the world after reading this than I have been from most self-help books, where the sole purpose is often to do just that.

Rating: 3.5 stars
(but worthy of rounding up to 4 on GoodReads and Amazon)
About Roland Merullo

Roland Merullo is an awarding-winning author of 14 books including 10 works of fiction. Breakfast with Buddha, a nominee for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, is now in its 14th printing. The Talk-Funny Girl was a 2012 ALEX Award Winner and named a “Must Read for 2012” by the Massachusetts Library Association and the Massachusetts Center for the Book; Revere Beach Boulevard was named one of the “Top 100 Essential Books of New England” by The Boston Globe, A Little Love Story was named one of “Ten Wonderful Romance Novels” by Good Housekeeping and Revere Beach Elegy won the Massachusetts Book Award for non fiction.

A former writer in residence at North Shore Community College and Miami Dade Colleges, and professor of Creative Writing at Bennington and Amherst Colleges, Merullo has been a guest speaker at many literary events and venues and a faculty member at MFA programs and several writers’ conferences. His essays have appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, Outside Magazine, Yankee Magazine, Newsweek, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Good Housekeeping, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. His books have been translated into German, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean and Croatian.

Roland Merullo lives in western Massachusetts with his wife and two daughters.

For additional information, please visit Mr. Merullo’s website,
Thanks to TLC Tours for my review copy.

Note: I received a complimentary copy for review purposes. A positive review was not requested or guaranteed; the opinions expressed are my own.

Please visit other stops on the Lunch with Buddha blog tour page


Praise for Breakfast with Buddha

“There are two journeys here, and the significant journey is not measured in miles, but in awareness; we know that it is not only the passing scenery out the window we should attend to, but to Otto’s inner landscape as well . . .” —John Dufresne, The Boston Globe

“Spiritual odysseys are seldom filled with baseball games, miniature golf, Mexican food and belly laughs; this one is the exception.” — Valerie Ryan, The Seattle Times