Book Review: Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Murello (3/5)

20 Apr

Another book club selection here. Never would have picked it myself and I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it. A bit middle of the road. But hey, you need that sometimes, right? Good books only stand out next to bad and OK books. I’d rather read an OK than a bad book, so I’m okay with this. I digress.

Cover Image via

Cover Image via

Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo

Summary from Goodreads:

When his sister tricks him into taking her guru on a trip to their childhood home, Otto Ringling, a confirmed skeptic, is not amused. Six days on the road with an enigmatic holy man who answers every question with a riddle is not what he’d planned. But in an effort to westernize his passenger—and amuse himself—he decides to show the monk some “American fun” along the way. From a chocolate factory in Hershey to a bowling alley in South Bend, from a Cubs game at Wrigley field to his family farm near Bismarck, Otto is given the remarkable opportunity to see his world—and more important, his life—through someone else’s eyes. Gradually, skepticism yields to amazement as he realizes that his companion might just be the real thing.

For a ‘spiritual’ book, this was very light. Merullo wasn’t trying to push an idea or convince the reader that he or she was going to hell for some reason or another. I guess there was a tinge of a minimalist lifestyle in here, but nothing smashing you in the face or over the top. I read this quickly; the short chapters made that easy, but I didn’t overly enjoy it and it wasn’t a book I couldn’t put down. It was perfectly OK.

I liked Otto as a character. He was flawed in many of the ways most American’s are, but not so much so that I pitied him at all. He had a good relationship with his wife, so much so that it seemed like a stretch, but still believable. I’m not sure if I think Rinpoche was believable or not, but I liked him. I pictured him like the fat, smiling Buddha on the cover, but I realize he was probably a thin, stout, sturdy man. He always talked about eating less, he couldn’t be very big!

Rinpoche was easily my favorite of the two. Browsing the reviews on Goodreads, not many people mention Rinpoche, instead concentrating on Otto’s journey. Rinpoche was the teacher instead of the pupil even though Merullo tried to write in that Rinpoche was learning, too. I didn’t feel he changed much as a person during the drive. But I liked how calm and happy he was. That’s something I would like for myself so I admired Rinpoche for his ability and I thought about some of his lessons.

Otto’s struggle to live like Rinpoche reminded me of my struggle to live a life more in line with the Catholic Church. Some days, it’s a struggle to reject small sins (no snacking on Ash Wednesday, no sausage on Fridays in Lent, etc.) but when you boil it down, it’s about freeing our minds to spend more quality time with God and learning from that. I could relate to Otto a lot and based on the response to this book, I think a lot of people could, no matter their religion.

Roland Merullo Image via 'Lunch with Buddha' website

Roland Merullo
Image via ‘Lunch with Buddha’ website

I liked the scene where they stopped in Hershey, PA. I thought that was a very classic and touristy thing for the pair to do and was so perfect at the time. Rinpoche’s reaction to Kisses was great, too, and it was an early indication of his self-control and commitment to overall wellness.

My least favorite part came at the end, so skip this paragraph if you intend to read and don’t want something spoiled for you. I was mad when Otto knew Cecilia was pregnant. To some extent, you could tell she was romantically involved with Rinpoche, but I never saw that one coming. I guess he knew his sister really well, but I felt that as the reader, I was being kept in the dark. So much of the novel is filled with Otto’s thoughts, but this one was left out. Why? I felt like Otto was lying to me.

I feel like I was supposed to learn something from this novel, but I’m not sure what. I don’t feel preached to or lectured to in any way that gives me a take away spiritually, but I think this was a spiritual book. What to think. Perhaps not to indulge so often in whatever is our vice. For Otto it was food and Rinpoche told him repeatedly to eat less. For me, it might be reading or knitting. Do that less. And what instead? Meditate, clear your mind of anything that makes it impure or unable to communicate with God. Maybe for me this should be pray instead of mediate. Or both, I’m not sure.

Writer’s Takeaway: Merullo had a very conversational style which was easy as a reader. I liked the way he took us through Otto’s spiritual transformation by showing us his skepticism and misgivings. I liked this because I find it unbelievable when characters jump in with both feet.  I’ve already pointed out the one time Merullo didn’t do this and it bothered me, but for the most part, it was well written.

Good but not outstanding. A bit of a muddled message. Three out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
Interview with Roland Merullo by Chris Beal | Buddhist Fiction Blog
Breakfast with Buddha, Roland Merullo | Your Next Best Book


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