Book Review: Lunch with Buddha by Roland Merullo

Posted February 6, 2013 by LeahAdmin in Reviews / 5 Comments

Book Review: Lunch with Buddha by Roland Merullo
Lunch with Buddha by Roland Merulo
Published by AJAR Contemporaries on Nov. 2012
Pages: 392
Genres: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Giveaway / Gift

Following the death of his wife, middle-aged Otto travels to Washington State with his two college-age children to spread Jeanie’s ashes at a site special to the couple. After an emotional gathering with his family, he embarks on a road trip across the American West with his sister’s husband, Volya Rinpoche, a world-renowned spiritual man and teacher of Buddhism.

As on the pair’s previous road trip a few years before, Otto tries to teach Rinpoche about American culture and Rinpoche bestows spiritual lessons upon Otto. The two men experience the beautiful bounty of the untamed West while Otto struggles with the loss of his wife and searches for peace of mind through the teachings of the spiritual master.

I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. I’m all about road trip novels, afflicted by wanderlust as I am, and although I’m not religious, I am interested in the philosophical teachings of different religious traditions. A book about taking a road trip with a Buddhist spiritual leader is right up my alley. However, although I enjoyed this book, I didn’t feel the emotional connection I was hoping for.

I also was thrown off by the little, seemingly false notes Otto senses in Rinpoche. Instead of seeing him entirely as a spiritual, enlightened man, Otto perceives some of Rinpoche’s actions to be phony, an act. For example, Rinpoche, who hails from the Siberian region between China and Russa, seems to speak English worse now than he did when Otto met him many years ago; in the last few years, he has picked up some linguistic quirks that he didn’t have before, such as pronouncing “very” as “wery.” Maybe these observations are more reflective of Otto’s cynicism than Rinpoche’s spiritual sincerity, but they were a little bit off-putting.

Another thing that bothered me was how Otto seems to think everything is about him all the time — everything Rinpoche or his sister, Cecelia, does MUST somehow be a lesson for him. It doesn’t matter how obscure the connection is; Otto WILL figure out how Rinpoche’s wanting to ride a water slide or Seese’s making plans to prolong their trip is meant to teach him some valuable spiritual lesson. It seemed quite self-centered, but maybe that should be expected from a man who is grieving his wife’s death and is on a road trip with a spiritual leader, trying to piece his life back together?

These were really only minor annoyances in a book that I really did enjoy. It was funny and sad and touching, and I love reading about different regions of the U.S. This country is so beautiful, and I feel incredibly lucky to have seen as much of it as I have, but I yearn to travel more and experience the incredible vistas America has to offer. I loved the descriptions of the land, the towns, and the people Otto and Rinpoche met along the road.

Lunch with Buddha is the sequel to Breakfast with Buddha, a novel about Otto’s first road trip with Rinpoche. I haven’t read the first book, but it wasn’t a detriment to my reading experience. The previous trip is alluded to a few times, but I didn’t feel as if I was missing important information for not having read it. Merullo did a great job making this book stand on its own despite being a sequel. I’m not sure if I’ll read Breakfast with Buddha, but Lunch with Buddha was an enjoyable read.

I won a copy of this book from a giveaway hosted by Bibliosue. Read her review here.

  • I’m glad you enjoyed it. I think I preferred Breakfast with Buddha myself but I liked both of them — I wonder if there will be a Dinner with Buddha?

    • Hm, I wonder! I loved the little nod to the title with the Breakfast/Lunch Abroad books in the book 😛

  • Just curious, do you plan to read the first book?

    • I’m not sure. I enjoyed Lunch with Buddha, and I’m glad I read it, but I’m not sure if I’m invested enough to read the first book when there are so many other books on my TBR list.

  • I keep seeing this book pop up on various website, but no one seems to love it.